The moral emptiness of conservative "freedom" by @DavidOAtkins

The moral emptiness of conservative "freedom"

by David Atkins

Watching Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum speak last night, a student of American politics would be forgiven for thinking that Republicans are truly obsessed with the idea of freedom. Laced throughout the two candidates' rhetoric were paeans to private enterprise, to individual liberty, and to entrepreneurial spirit. Also redolent in the post-Illinois glow was palpable anger against the meddling intrusiveness of federal bureaucrats in Washington D.C. into successful industries and private American lives.

All of which would make sense, if these Republican paragons of virtue actually cared about any of these things. Civil libertarians protective of private American liberties certainly have a lot to complain about. The Obama Administration has been guilty of a great deal of meddling that the Bush Administration would not have countenanced.

If Republicans wanted to legitimately complain about actions of the federal government in the private sector, they could point to the Obama Administration's disruptive steps against the burgeoning world of online poker (though it appears the Administration took action against the bad guys before loosening the rules to clear the way for legitimate operators). They could decry the record number of deportations of undocumented immigrants, preventing businesses from exploiting cheap labor. Republicans could lament the intrusion by federal government into California's medical marijuana business (though it appears the Administration didn't have a direct hand in that). The tri-corner hat crowd could wave their "Don't Tread on Me" signs to rail against the fairly clearly unconstitutional killing of an American citizen on foreign soil without judicial or due process. They could protest the continued use of the Patriot Act and other forms massive illegal information gathering without a warrant against American citizens.

Conversations about the intrusion of federal government into private rights are certainly happening. But they're all happening on the left, as various factions debate the proper role of state and federal government in dealing with gambling, drugs, immigration, and prevention of international terrorism.

But on all these issues the American Right is either conspicuously silent, or angry that the Obama Administration has not been restrictive enough against American freedoms. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney would redouble the Obama Administration's curtailment of personal freedoms and rights in these areas, and then some.

No, when Republicans speak about "freedom" as their leaders did last night, they mean only two things: 1) the "freedom" of the super-rich to stack the deck even farther in their favor while contributing nothing to the social supports that made them rich; and 2) the "freedom" of religious bigots to enforce their version on morality on everyone else. When they argue that President Obama is removing their freedoms, they refer not to his actual infringements on American freedoms, but rather his innocuous efforts at universal health insurance and 1990s era tax rates on the wealthy.

American conservatives don't care about individual liberty. They arguably never have. The care only about preserving the right of private wealth and religious authority to abuse and oppress the rest of us without interference or intervention. The federal government is the ultimate restraint, elected by the people of this country, placed on their otherwise absolute authority, and they want it gone. They want the freedom to employ anyone they choose at any wage and at any age that they wish, and then cast them aside once they're no longer useful. They want the "freedom" to stuff women back into the kitchen, minorities back into shantytowns, and gays back into the closet. That's "freedom" to the conservative mind.

"Freedom" for them isn't about everyone in this country having the opportunity to live life as they see fit. It's about making sure that the most powerful private individuals, be they CEOs or church leaders, get to make the rest of us live the lives they see fit.

There's nothing moral or respectable about it. It's a contemptible ideology, made all the more odious by its appropriation of the language of liberty, and its silence on the issues that truly define whether Americans live free.