Well evidently I am not the only one frustrated by this lack of aggressiveness and foresight by the Democrats. In today's Wall Street Journal, Thomas Frank calls Democrats and the left out for ceding the word "freedom" to the right wingers in the first place.
There are few things in politics more annoying than the right's utter conviction that it owns the patent on the word "freedom" that when its leaders stand up for the rights of banks to be unregulated or capital gains to be untaxed, that it is actually and obviously standing up for human liberty, the noblest cause of them all.
Equally annoying is the silence of Democratic Party leaders on the subject. They spend their careers hearing this fatuous argument from the other side, but challenging conservatism's claim to freedom seems to be beyond their powers. Or beneath their dignity. Or something.
Today they're paying for that high-mindedness. While Democrats fussed with the details of health-care reforms, conservatives spent months telling the nation that the real issue is freedom, that what's on the line is American liberty itself.
Any increase in the size or duties of government, the right tells us, necessarily subtracts from our freedom. Government is, by its very nature, a destroyer of liberties; the Obama administration, specifically, is promising to interfere with the economy and the health-care system so profoundly that Washington will soon have us all in chains.
"What we're going to end up with is higher taxes, bigger government and less freedom for the American people," House Republican Leader John Boehner said on Fox News in July. "We're going to have a real fight for how much freedom we're going to have left in America."
People working the freedom vein were numerous at the large protest that took place in Washington on Saturday. Sponsors included the Institute for Liberty, Let Freedom Ring, Young Americans for Liberty, the Campaign for Liberty, the Center for Individual Freedom, and BureauCrash a.k.a. "the Freedom Activist Network." FreedomWorks, the grass-roots pressure group, prepared a video for the occasion which encouraged people to believe that the administration's many policy "czars" revealed its kinship to the Russian autocracy of old.
That our ancestors could ever have understood freedom as something greater than the absence of the state would probably strike protesters as inconceivable. But they did. You can see it in that famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting from 1943: "Freedom from Want," an illustration of one of Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms." Strange though it might sound, this is a form of freedom that pretty much requires government to get involved in the economy in order to "secure to every nation," as Roosevelt put it, "a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants." The idea is still enshrined today in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I know we are late in the game here but there still is plenty of time for the left to make some slight adjustment on messaging for health care. I can promise you that if we keep associating the public option over and over with the "freedom to choose" people will start to see it in a different light. Its just a matter of actually going out and doing it, now who is coming with me?