By Robert Reich
I don’t recommend spending time watching Republican attack ads. (They’re bad for your blood pressure.) Yet I’ve been doing it this weekend to better understand the core Republican message leading into the midterm elections. My finding: Republicans are planning to focus on “freedom” — claiming they’re the party of freedom and Democrats are the party of tyranny.
“Democrats want to take away your freedom” the former guy said, in the words now being repeated by almost every GOP candidate heading for the midterms.
Freedom is the most attractive and potent idea in American political culture. The right wing has claimed it as its own for a long time. It’s the most frequently used noun in Republican primary ads so far this month.
But with each passing day, the Republican claim to freedom becomes more absurd.
Just look at Republican states readying abortion bans as soon as the Supreme Court officially repeals Roe v. Wade. Is there a more important and intimate freedom than the freedom to choose when, how, and with whom to start a family?
Republican states are eliminating the freedom to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. Dozens of bills are designed to limit what can be discussed in schools, and to restrict transgender athletes in school sports.
So far this year, Republicans have proposed 29 measures nationwide to curtail health care for transgender youth. Just few weeks ago, Idaho’s Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed legislation making it a crime punishable by life in prison for a parent to seek out gender-affirming health care for their transgender child.
Across the nation, Republican lawmakers are taking away students’ freedom to learn about America’s history of racism and discrimination.
The logic of Justice Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe — rejecting Court precedents based on a constitutional right to privacy — would open the way for Republican states to do what they did decades ago: bar access to contraceptives, criminalize homosexuality, and prohibit people from marrying someone of the same sex.
Republican lawmakers are attacking the most fundamental freedom of all — the freedom to vote. They’re restricting everything from mail-in voting to ballot drop boxes. (Which is why the Democrats’ “Freedom to Vote Act” continues to be so vitally important, and must be passed.)
Republicans’ contempt for freedom goes deeper. They don’t want Americans to enjoy the freedom that comes with good health care, good schools, and good wages. I’m reminded of philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s positive freedoms — not just the freedom from but the freedom to. Can anyone really be free if they’re saddled with medical debt and have to routinely pay outrageous healthcare costs? Or they’re burdened for years trying to pay off student loans? Can you really be free if you have no voice in your workplace and your employer refuses to let you organize with your coworkers for the right to collectively bargain? Can you really be free if you’re not paid a living wage and have to choose between feeding your family and keeping your lights on?
A living wage, the right to join a union, guaranteed healthcare, free higher education, the right to vote – these are the foundations of real freedom. Yet Republicans oppose all of these while Democrats support all (and progressive Democrats are fighting the hardest for them).
There’s a reason the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 rally was called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” Because freedom also means the ability to work in a job that pays enough to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
Republicans have no interest in preserving freedom. What they want to preserve is power — the power to impose their narrow ideology on everyone else, no matter who suffers.
In the months ahead, Democrats must stake claim to freedom. They should not allow Republicans to pose as the party of freedom when the GOP is busily taking away freedoms Americans hold dear. Democrats have to make the case — the true case — that they are on the side of freedom. Democrats, wake up. Six months until the midterms. Get this message out. Let freedom ring!