Giving Freedom a Bad Name 

Conservatives don't know what the word means

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. —George Orwell

Jim DeMint has a new book out. Yes, that Jim DeMint — our U.S. Senator, the man who wants to meet President Obama at Waterloo, the politician who has been entertaining teabaggers around the state for months.

Bet you didn't know DeMint was a writer, did you? Well, he's not, actually. Whatever staffer or ghost writer actually sat down and hacked out this little screed gets an A for clarity, spelling, and punctuation. Like most such books — from the left or right end of the spectrum — the style is pedestrian and the message is as subtle as a brick on the head.

Published in June, Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism, has a simple premise — that socialists are ruining America and freedom-lovers must take it back. DeMint uses the terms "freedom" and "socialism"— usually in opposition — hundreds of times in this 277-page book, yet he fails to define either one. As in the old western movies, all you had to know was that the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. You didn't need to understand what motivated their behavior or their sartorial choices. Likewise, in DeMint's book all you need to know is that freedom-lovers cherish God and capitalism and oppose homosexuality and the right to use contraception. (He sees no irony in this.) And of course, socialists stand for ... the opposite.

Where all these socialists are coming from, I don't know. I could count all the socialists I have ever known on one hand. Like the commie hunters of a previous age, DeMint seems to find socialists under every bed and in every government agency.

What DeMint does here is romanticize America's past, turning it into a bucolic Christian utopia, in which friends and neighbors took care of each other, there were no industries to regulate, and no ethnic conflicts to sort out. That's the way we should see the country today, he says — just a happy, freedom-loving nation without global corporations, climate change, credit and healthcare crises, and racial or sexual discrimination. Don't listen to those darn socialists, with all their complicated theories and prescriptions.

If DeMint can get people to buy into his simplistic world view, they won't have to worry about these problems. What he wants is nothing less than the freedom to ignore science and society and party like it's 1899. No wonder this ideology has such appeal to corporate moguls and closet bigots.

This is what "freedom" has come to mean to conservatives, and they use it in all contexts to give their greed and intolerance the patina of respectability. FreedomWorks is one of the fiercest corporate lobbying groups in Washington, largely responsible for whipping up the howlers and protesters at the healthcare townhall meetings. The Center for Freedom and Prosperity is a powerful corporate "think tank." There is also Freedom's Watch, Students for Academic Freedom, Young Americans for Freedom, the Free Republic blog, and others.

"Liberty" is also a word that has been co-opted by the right-wing, for example, Jerry Falwell's socially and academically repressive Liberty University, the deeply racist and anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby (which once had ties with the late Sen. Strom Thurmond), and the recently formed Young Americans for Liberty, an outgrowth of Ron Paul's presidential campaign.

Yet, in all this talk of freedom and liberty coming from the right, I have never heard a single conservative address the paradox of America holding more people in its prisons and jails than any other nation on earth. In 2007, a record 7.2 million people were behind bars, on probation, or parole. In 2008, America had 737 per 100,000 people incarcerated, by far the highest rate in the world.

The majority of Americans are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, which includes anything from writing bad checks to using drugs.

"Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences," according to The New York Times.

Yet, freedom-loving conservatives will never complain about this loss of freedom. The people in America's prisons don't look like the teabaggers and the town hall protesters. America's prisons are filled with poor people and minorities, the kind of people conservatives avoid mingling with or thinking about. In his 277-page paean to freedom, DeMint does not write a word about the millions of Americans who have truly lost their freedom, who live behind bars for victimless and nonviolent crimes.

Orwell also left this memorable aphorism: "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." Jim DeMint is the proof.

Check Will Moredock's blog at

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