"Freedom" is quite the hot term these days. It has become nearly devoid of all meaning as it's tossed here and there as a political football, more often than not wielded by the Right just as cynically as they wield other now meaningless concepts like "the rule of law," "fiscal conservatism," and a personal favorite of mine, "traditional family values." All of these are phrases which may have carried some meaning at their conception, but which have been drained of all value by a party hellbent on aestheticizing politics to the point of absurdity.
There is some difference in "freedom," however, as I would argue that the Conservative concept of freedom has always been somewhat devoid of meaning. The quasi-Randian approach of unfettered Capitalism, low and flat income tax rates, and weak social safety nets is incapable of bringing true freedom to anyone outside of a select few, not because it cannot live up to its own ideals, but because this model is not and never was aimed at anything resembling freedom in the real world.
Instead, the modern-day Conservative, presuming that they haven't sold their soul to Donald Trump and dedicated their political life to empowering him with no care for any other principles (See Scott DesJarlais), is aiming for a childish, "Wild West" style of freedom. They envision a world where one is ruggedly building their own fortune, free from the fetters of Government regulation and taxation. Unfortunately, this lacks any conception of the true nature of power and the disparities between bosses and workers in the workplace.
For example, let's take Bob. Bob is experiencing an uncomfortable work environment in which he is suffering abusive language and poor working conditions on a regular basis. His boss speaks rudely to him, places him on difficult shifts in dangerous conditions, and asks overly prying questions about his personal life. This is to assume that Bob isn't facing added poor treatment for things like skin color, LGBTQ+ identity, and more. And what freedom is afforded Bob by the modern, Conservative model?
The freedom to quit? Sure! He can walk out now. Of course, He'll have no food, no way to pay his rent and utilities, no way to care for his family, no access to health insurance, car insurance, or any form of livelihood.
His boss controls all of this. Every command which our friend Bob is given, whether absurd and offensive, or even a nice and reasonable task from a good manager, is backed by the threat that if he fails to perform this job or even speaks back in a way that his supervisor doesn't like, then every bit of the life that he's built for himself and his family is at stake.
For those lucky enough to make enough money or have financially stable family and friends, this is a slightly lessened, but still very real threat. And for the poor and working class folks in our area, this is a dire fear. So I ask, is this what freedom looks like to you? How can one be free when access to the bare necessities of life are dependent on his selling his labor to someone in charge of him?
To me, freedom looks like Medicare for All. It looks like a federal jobs guarantee, free and livable public housing, decent public schools in ever district, consistent access to food, and other robust safety nets, all democratically controlled. It looks like widespread unionization and taxes on the business class, particularly the roughly 650 billionaires who have added more than a trillion dollars to their personal wealth in the last year as the rest of the world suffered horrific economic downturn and a deadly virus, to take away some of their undue power over us.
When Gov. Bill Lee cuts Medicaid and tells you that he's made you more "free," by scaling back a government operation what he's really done is given your boss one more necessity with which to coerce your labor. This is not any kind of freedom which I recognize.
Of course, the government isn't always the best administrator of these programs, though one need only look to other developed nations with better safety nets to see that they can be tremendously effective, but universalizing these programs means creating a floor and taking coercive power away from the owning class. It also means some democratic control, though our system of voting is still deeply flawed. This may empower workers, not only to demand basic dignity, but to fight for better wages and working conditions without the fear that, should they be fired, they may starve or miss out on lifesaving medical care. That is what truly terrifies them.
Politicians like Bill Lee who preach incessantly of some mythical "free market freedom" are lying. They are doing it on purpose to cut the tax rates of their friends and donors. Their concept of "freedom" is childish and incomplete.
Instead, we must unite to fight for real freedom, and that means universal programs and basic dignity to all workers and all people.