The battle cry of freedom

Posted on May 3, 2023

It is time for us all to follow some message framing advice from President Biden – we should explicitly defend American “freedom.” Don’t be afraid to use the word; it is the strongest argument we have right now.

On April 25, Joe Biden announced his reelection campaign with a video and here is what he said:

Freedom. Personal freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans. There’s nothing more important, nothing more sacred. That’s been the work of my first term, to fight for our democracy. This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue: to protect our rights, to make sure that everyone in this country is treated equally, and that everyone is given a fair shot at making it.

But you know, around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms: cutting Social Security that you’ve paid for your entire life while cutting taxes for the very wealthy, dictating what health decisions women can make, banning books and telling people who they can love, all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote.

When I ran for President four years ago, I said we were in a battle for the soul of America, and we still are. The question we’re facing is, whether in the years ahead, we have more freedom or less freedom, more rights or fewer. I know what I want the answer to be, and I think you do too.

This is not a time to be complacent. That’s why I’m running for reelection, because I know America. I know we’re good and decent people. I know we’re still a country that believes in honesty and respect and treating each other with dignity, that we’re a nation where we give hate no safe harbor. We believe that everyone is equal, that everyone should be given a fair shot to succeed in this country.

Every generation of Americans have faced a moment when they’ve had to defend democracy, stand up for personal freedom, stand up for the right to vote and our civil rights. And this is our moment.

You should be saying much the same thing, especially shouting the battle cry of “freedom.”

Why is Biden focusing on this? As Celinda Lake, one of our best and most experienced pollsters, explains:

I can tell you that “freedom” has been testing very, very strongly…. The strongest critique of the MAGA Republicans is that they are taking away our freedom. The strongest critique of politicians, particularly to women, is that they are trying to control our lives, control our bodies….

That message [is also] very strong for mobilization. It mobilizes young voters, African Americans who associate “freedom” with voting rights and civil rights, and it really motivates women, and younger women, around the abortion issue, and medication abortion.

There is no doubt that progressives believe in freedom. The problem is, we barely talk about it because the right wing has claimed it as a reason for low taxes and few business regulations. But that’s not what “freedom” means. “Freedom” is a defense of our basic constitutional and civil rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and association; the right to privacy; the rights of the accused; and the right of all citizens to vote.

Most astonishing, I think, is the way progressives often cave in on “freedom” against MAGA extremists. They argue that freedom gives them the right to use the power of government to impose their religious views on the rest of us. But when they try to use state government power to eliminate abortion rights, discriminate against LGBT people, ban books, and overturn elections, that’s exactly an attack against freedom. Freedom is the absence of government involvement where we, as Americans, are supposed to have fundamental rights.

The abortion issue has changed the political dynamic on freedom. It has become clear to persuadable voters that conservatives are pretty strongly against freedom. Using this is excellent politics. Besides, we have a solemn responsibility to guard our rights to freedom. We must shout from the rooftops that freedom is one of our most cherished values. We must remind Americans that Clarence Darrow was right when he said, “You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.”

Joe Biden is right; follow his lead.