Friday, July 4, 2008

44th 4th; Freedom--and Responsibility

I was calculating, as I woke this morning, that this is my 44th July 4th in the United States. Happy Birthday, everyone! As I have suggested on several occasions in the past, I'm continue to wonder whether it's not getting to be time for us Brits--or, in my case, ex-Brits--to recolonize this place and bring it back into the civilized world. Just kidding.

Independence Day, then. I get the independence part. But what about "freedom"? It seems to me that this is a word, like "patriotism", much bandied about with little real sense as to its meaning. When it falls from the lips of the current (not for too much longer!) occupant of the White House--I still refuse to dignify him with the honorific "President"--I can't help but hear the clink of money accompanying it, along with a naive kind of ideology that believes that the American concept of freedom is good for everyone else in the world. It dovetails neatly with the notion of "free markets" and the kind of economic prosperity that benefits those with the skill and the mind-set to exploit them. It glosses too easily over the desperate poverty, hunger and disease with which too many of the world's inhabitants do daily battle--as though, once granted "freedom", their problems would be solved. For many, "freedom" would be little more than a survival ration of food and clean water to drink.

The idea of individual rights envisioned by those who founded America must surely have been more complex than it seems to be today. Did they envision a nation of millions upon millions, whose individual "rights" must inevitably clash, and whose "freedoms" might well impinge on those of their neighbors? Surely their idea of freedom was compounded with a sense of social responsibility, a willingness to compromise, even sacrifice some of those individual rights to the benefit of all? Today, it seems to me, we have lost much of that willingness to place "me", "my needs," "my rights" in the context of the common weal. (How about that "right to bear arms," to take but one example?)

I look around America today and I see freedom run amok. Consider the current Democratic election campaign. The kind of uncompromising, "my way and no other way", ideologically-based whining that I've been hearing, first from disappointed Hillary fans and now from disillusioned Obama supporters seems to me no different, really, than the ideologically-driven Bush administration. If we Democrats, particularly we so-called progressive or liberal democrats are incapable of listening to anything other than our own convictions, let alone modifying our ideological positions in order to work together for a greater goal, then we deserve, once again, to lose in November.

As I was saying just the other day, there are points on which I personally disagree strongly with the positions Obama has publicly embraced. I was brought up a good socialist, in Europe, and I wish he were able to speak from the much further, much more secular left. But this is America, "land of the free," where freedoms have been seriously eroded by successive, increasingly conservative administrations, and where a vast section of the electorate has supported and elected them. At this critical time in our history, I do want to keep our candidate on course; but let's allow him to be election-savvy as much as, if not more so than, ideologically correct. Let's for God's sake do everything in our power to get the man elected, even if it involves some sacrifice of our noble ideals.

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