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“American Exceptionalism In A Nutshell”: We Think “Freedom” Is Just Another Word For “Packing Heat”

Well, Donald Trump finally said something I agree with 100%:

Here’s what I said about gun rights and American Exceptionalism back in July when the president told the BBC that his inability to enact reasonable gun regulations was his greatest frustration:

Any British audience would be puzzled by this phenomenon, but then the Brits aren’t exactly freedom-loving, are they?

Well, actually they are, as are people in a lot of other advanced countries where there’s no expectation of any right to set oneself up as a private army.

And that gets to one of the roots of the ideology of “American exceptionalism.” If you compare the U.S. to other nations where there are reasonably solid traditions of self-government, respect for law, and democratic accountability, in what respect do we enjoy more “liberty?” When people tearfully sing along with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m proud to be an American,” what do they mean when they say “at least I know I’m free,” as compared, say, to a Canadian? The only thing readily identifiable is our unique freedom to pack heat. And so long as that is thought to be integral to American identity, and protected by powerful and wealthy interest groups, including maybe one-and-a-half major political parties, then efforts to take the most reasonable steps to keep guns out of the hands of potential shooters will continue to be “frustrated.”

I love my country, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. But I sure wish fewer of us thought of “freedom” as just another word for packing heat, and even fewer thought they had the right to stockpile weapons in case they decide it’s necessary to overthrow the government and impose their will on the rest of us.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 18, 2015

September 20, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Freedom, Gun Regulations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paris Terror: What ‘Je Suis Charlie’ Should Mean To Us”: Restoring And Preserving Everything Decent That Distinguishes Us From Our Enemies

Not long after 9/11, leading figures in France’s champagne industry decided that they would hold their 2002 annual awards gala in New York City rather than Paris. At no little expense, they displayed solidarity with New Yorkers, and America, at a time of sorrow and fury – like so many of their compatriots. The first toast of the evening included the words, “We are all New Yorkers.” It was one more instance, symbolic but significant, when the French renewed the bond that has existed since this country’s founding.

And not too long after that, disagreement between the French government and the Bush administration over the invasion of Iraq led to a breach between us and our oldest allies. They tried in vain to save us from a tragic mistake or worse, and were rewarded with vilification from Fox News to the floor of Congress.

By now, of course, we know that the French never disagreed with us about the danger posed by Islamist jihad, only about the means and priorities in combating that adversary. Today the French military is supporting the U.S. and other allies by conducting airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. That continuing alliance requires us all to repeat “Je Suis Charlie” in the aftermath of the atrocious terror attack on the Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.  Yet while we owe that gesture to our old friends, we still owe them, ourselves, and the world much more.

As an assault on liberty and security, the barbaric shootings that killed the editor of Charlie Hebdo, four cartoonists, a police officer and six more innocents cannot be excused or explained. The victims had every right to do what they were doing and what they had done, regardless of the violent anger they stirred among the perpetrators and their sponsors. It is criminal warfare by an implacable enemy that will not desist until it is destroyed.

To understand what is at stake in this struggle, it is important to look closely what we are defending. There is no equivalent to Charlie Hebdo in the United States, nor is there a tradition of the kind of anti-religious satire that has been among its specialties. Those killed had the kind of cultural stature of Doctor Seuss, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, the editors of Mad magazine or the producers of The Daily Show – except that their style is far more offensive and challenging than most Americans can imagine, not only in insulting Islam but Christianity, Judaism, and every other congregation of believers in France.

Rightists who regard the defense of Charlie Hebdo as merely another opportunity to bash Muslims ought to glance back at the magazine’s equally savage assaults on institutions they hold dear, since its anarchic sense of humor has spared no one. Nobody needs to approve of anything that the editors published, including the mocking cartoons of Muhammad, to reject the use of violence to suppress them.

Indeed, it is possible to reject the content of those drawings and still stand firmly with the Charlie Hebdo staff. In free societies, there will always be writers and artists who use their freedom in ways that the rest of us find obnoxious, ugly, even dangerous. The French imam who denounced the killings clearly and called the victims “martyrs” surely doesn’t care for those cartoons. But he knows the price of living under constitutional freedom that protects his right to worship – and to protest, without violence, words and pictures that offend.

If only the would-be persecutors of Islam in the West adequately comprehended that same principle. And if only they realized that such persecution is exactly what the jihadists desire.

Effective opposition to violent Islamism means neither denying that this grave challenge exists nor demonizing Muslims. It means seeking to make ordinary Muslims, by far the most common victims of Islamist terror, our allies as well. And in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the Senate torture report, and every other mistake and crime since 9/11, supposedly committed to defend liberty, it means restoring and preserving everything decent that distinguishes us from our enemies.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, France, Freedom | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If Money Is Speech And Speech Is Freedom…”: Those With Less Money Get Less Freedom, Less Speech, Less Representation

If money is speech and speech is freedom, then it follows that those who have more money will have more freedom.

This includes the freedom to determine who gets to vote, the freedom to dictate how much workers are paid, and the freedom to impose their agenda regardless of public opinion.

It also follows that those with less money will have less freedom, less speech, and less representation.

These are the basic tautologies in logic that Conservatives refuse to address. By equating freedom with money, the Party That Loves Liberty and Freedom is actually reducing the liberty and freedom of the vast majority of Americans. Yet when the majority of Senators tried to correct this problem, obstructionist Senate Republicans killed the proposal with a filibuster. Conservatives accused the Democrats who supported the proposal of trying “to radically shrink First Amendment protection of political speech.”

Constitutional guarantees of free speech, it turns out, are only available for those who can afford to pay.

Bloviating pundits notwithstanding, speech is not an infinite resource. There are only so many radio and television ads that can be sold; only so many prime time hours; only so many websites. Perhaps the most finite of all resources is the attention span of voters. Once these resources have reached their full capacity, there is no room left. Other voices and ideas are simply unheard, no matter how brilliant, valuable, or vote-worthy they might be. Television stations cannot squeeze in one more commercial. Voters will not sit through another political ad.

In the war of voter attrition, the Koch brothers are winning.

The problem is exacerbated by judges that believe that political ads are not required to tell the truth. Politicians and the PACs that suppport them have the freedom to create a lie and to overpower any opposition to it, including opposing views that are based on actual facts. It’s a perfect propaganda machine.

Voter fatigue translates into skewed election results. Once in office, politicians rewrite election laws, gerrymander Congressional districts, and take other actions to ensure that their donors are rewarded and that they and their party remain in power. Laws that can’t be changed through legislation are manipulated through the budget process. New ideas are allowed to die despite having strong public approval. 92 percent of Americans think that requiring a background check before someone can buy a gun is a good idea. 72 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage. Yet these and other popular ideas are routinely killed by a minority of Senators who represent a minority of voters.

Let’s be honest. Citizens United and the closely related McCutcheon were not about increasing freedom of speech. Both were 5-4 decisions from a Conservative majority and are about ensuring political control in the face of changing voter preferences. Both cases are about drowning out any opposition.

Which brings us to Net Neutrality. If money equals freedom, then startup companies and small businesses that have less money will have less freedom. This means, among other things, less freedom for innovation, less freedom for commerce, and less freedom of speech. The end of the Net Neutrality means a decline in the quality of service for everyone who uses the Internet. Ultimately, it is one step closer to the end of discussion, debate, and democracy.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web portion of the Internet, envisioned and still supports an open and inclusive web. Conservatives are on record as opposing this freedom. Instead, they prefer a “free market approach” that will do to the Internet what Citizens United has done to political campaigns. American media is already dominated by an oligarchy of just six companies. Independent media outlets and commentators already face enormous challenges as they struggle to be heard. Banishing these websites to the slow lane of the Internet would mean less freedom, not more.

Free speech cannot exist when those without money are shut out of the conversation. Democracy, in political ads and on media websites, requires a diversity of legitimate ideas, not simply the repetition of the same biases and misinformation.

Instead of asking why Democrats oppose unchallenged speech for a few, the better question is to ask why so many in Washington seem to oppose freedom for all.


By: Bob Seay, Editor,; The Huffington Post Blog, September 15, 2014


September 16, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Freedom | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Battle For Freedom”: A Brand Name Conservatives Use To Fill Their Own Ideals

Just over four years ago, The Democratic Strategist (a site where I’m managing editor) and the think tank Demos cosponsored an online forum entitled “Progressive Politics and the Meaning of American Freedom.” We did so in the growing fear that the radicalized conservative movement and its vehicle, the Republican Party, were in danger of reinterpreting and distorting the powerful American value of “freedom” in a way that undermined (very deliberately) most of the great accomplishments of the twentieth century and promoted the interests of wealthy elites.

It’s probably safe to say that progressives are still on the uphill climb in that battle.

For historical ammunition, check out the review of Harvey Kaye’s The Fight for the Four Freedoms by the Century Foundation’s Moshe Marvit, in the new issue of the Washington Monthly.

Kaye’s account covers the formulation of the Four Freedoms as including “freedom from want,” the huge influence it had on the world view of the “greatest generation,” and the vigorous backlash from conservatives ever since.

On this last topic, it’s important to understand that the Tea Party’s dogma of “freedom” meaning strict and eternal limits on government has a very old provenance, even if you exclude its many pre-New-Deal exponents. Here’s Marvit’s quick summary:

Since the Four Freedoms were an important source of radical change—especially once Roosevelt used them in arguing for an economic bill of rights—they were regarded as dangerous by many conservatives. So, taking the advice of Walter Fuller of the National Association of Manufacturers, conservatives and business leaders wasted no time in co-opting Roosevelt’s principles for their own ends. They did this through a process of appending and supplanting. First, the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce passed what they termed the “Fifth Freedom,” the opportunity of free enterprise, arguing that without it the other freedoms were “meaningless.” Similarly, Republican Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts presented a congressional resolution to add the freedom of private enterprise as the Fifth Freedom. Liberals timidly backed away from the radical view embodied in the Four Freedoms, allowing it to be disfigured and contorted. In time the idea became an empty vessel, a brand name, which conservatives used to fill with their own ideals. This transformation was apparent by 1987, when President Ronald Reagan announced his plan to enact an “Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees four fundamental freedoms: The freedom to work. The freedom to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. The freedom to own and control one’s property. The freedom to participate in a free market.”

The only real difference between Reagan’s approach to freedom and that of his “constitutional conservative” successors is that the latter clearly want to rule out a positive role in economic life for government forever, as a matter of constitutional law and (for most of them) Divine Edict. So in trying to reclaim “freedom” as a positive value, progressives are fighting against a new breed of reactionaries who are truly playing for keeps.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington MOnthly Political Animal, June 26, 2014

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Federal Government, Freedom | , , , | Leave a comment

“The Grazing Moocher”: Cliven Bundy Is Free To Be Crazy And We’re Free To Call Him On It

I want to tell you one more thing I know about freedom of speech.

Having pontificated about how “the Negro” was actually better off when not burdened by freedom and government subsidies, fringe hero Cliven Bundy is shocked – shocked! – that people would dare take offense at his musings. He went on CNN Friday morning to explain (h/t ThinkProgress, which was kind enough to add the emphasis):

I took this boot off so I wouldn’t put my foot in my mouth with the boot on. Let me see if I can say something. Maybe I sinned and maybe I need to ask forgiveness and maybe I don’t know what I actually said. But you know, when you talk about prejudice, we’re talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings.

We don’t have freedom to say what we want. If I call — if I say negro or black boy or slave, I’m not — if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offended, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done then yet. They should be able to — I should be able to say those things and they shouldn’t offend anybody. I didn’t mean to offend them.

Let’s set aside his truly weird suggestion that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “job” was to move society to a place where racism is completely acceptable in the public space. (I kind of thought that he was trying to move the country away from there, but whatever.)

Let’s instead talk about Bundy’s concept of freedom of speech. I get that Bundy – who achieved fame and a level of conservative-libertarian hero cred by asserting his sovereign right to freeload off of public lands – has some novel ideas about liberty and freedom. (Case in point, his belief that anyone could be better off without liberty and freedom.) But maybe I can help him out on this one.

The fact is that he does have the freedom to say what he wants. I know this because he said what he wanted and is still at large and able to make appearances on CNN trying to explain himself. He’s in absolutely no danger of being arrested for his racist views regarding black people. He has, in fact, been furnished a metaphorical megaphone in the form of just about every major media outlet in the country.

The best and most important expression of free speech is in the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” It says the federal government is not allowed to make freely expressing yourself illegal. It doesn’t say anything about a sovereign right to express yourself without other people expressing themselves back.

As a wingnut residing on the conservative end of the political spectrum, I would think Bundy favors free markets, but he seems genuinely mystified at his experience with the free market of ideas. He proffered his thoughts on race and – as happens with markets – consumers of information and ideas weighed them and decided that they weren’t buying.

So Bundy’s feelings are hurt because he expressed and society expressed itself back. But contrary to what he seems to think, this wasn’t an absence of free speech, it was an expression of it.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, April 25, 2014

April 30, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Freedom, Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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