The GOP mantra, the conservative rallying cry for “personal freedoms” is one that seems to be particularly hypocritical at first blush. When they demand to legislate what happens in a woman’s body or extend the right of free speech beyond the individual and onto a corporation with the same rights, it just seems all out of whack.
And then I figured it out.
It’s not about “personal freedoms”. It’s about “personal” freedoms. What’s the difference? Everything, actually.
Most people, when they talk about “personal freedoms”, are talking about those rights that should be afforded and protected for individuals. We might actually call them “civil freedoms”. Those things to which we believe every man woman and child should generally be granted,, and protected from usurpation. Makes sense, right?
But that’s not how today’s GOP with their inexorable move to the right mean it. No, they believe in “personal” freedoms. As in, whatever works for them personally is ok, and anything that doesn’t is not ok. When you look at their positions in this context, it all starts to make sense.
Why, for example, do they want to control a woman’s right to decide what she can and cannot do with her body? In this new context, it’s very simple – the control. With that control, they can do whatever they want, and a woman must accede to it. A concrete example is that of Newt Gingrich. Conservatives rail about family values, want to legislate it. So why no real problem with Newt? Because, it’s his “personal” freedom to blow through marriages. He was adulterous and unfaithful. And yet, when he chose to go after Clinton in the 90′s, it was somehow a huge problem. Again, Newt could do that because it was his “personal” freedom to be unfaithful. And in the mind of these folks on the right, whatever you choose to do for yourself is fine, but if someone else does it, bring on the brimstone and hellfire.
Look at Mitt Romney. I believe he genuinely has no idea how disconnected he is with the average American. Why? Because he’s acted on his “personal” freedoms. He likes the idea of being able to “fire” people, because doing so is to his benefit. Cutting taxes on the wealthy while increasing them on the poor is fine, because it works for him “personally”.
Perhaps that’s the easiest way to translate the right’s obsession with “personal” freedoms. Just think of it as “it’s all about me”. If it helps them, “personally”, then it’s ok. To them, anything that helps others is pointless, unless they garner some benefit to themselves. Altruism does not fit into their views. They don’t see the point, because it doesn’t benefit them. Once you have that concept in your mind, it’s much easier to understand how they think. It’s also much easier to understand why they get supporters.
On the surface, everyone says they want to help others. But more and more, people pay lip service to this idea. They’re willing to help, unless it requires some sacrifice on their part. To be sure, the economy and hardships folks have faced have hardened them and forced them to think about their own situations first. But there has also been a steady move toward the idea that one takes care of themselves first. And as that moves farther, you add “and to Hell with everyone else.”
I think we saw this movement really start in the 80′s. I distinctly remember the movie “Wall St.”, and abhorring the Gordon Gekko character. His mantra “Greed is good; greed works” was particularly offensive to me. But the sad reality is, the second half of that mantra is correct: Greed does work. And I know far too many who to this day still see Gekko not as the villian, but a hero, a role model.
Gekko was right in that greed motivates. And once you get something, you naturally want more. And how dare anyone deny it to you. But we can’t all be Wall St. tycoons. That’s where the simplicity of greed meets the American Dream. Everyone wants to believe they can be the tycoon, the multimillionaire. So, instead of acting on their best interests in reality, they fall prey to the dreams and fantasies of the rich. They’ll vote against their own interests to preserve the chance that someday, maybe, they might be there too.
“Personal” freedoms that they will never see.
And all the while, those with the money and the power will feed them that glimmer of hope, like the slot machine that pays out just enough to keep you pulling the handle. The odds are stacked against you the minute you walk into the casino, but you still drop the cash into the machine. And in the same way, the folks on the right keep feeding those dreams, while taking their livelihood. They’ll let you dream of keeping those taxes if you make it rich, while shipping your jobs overseas. They’ll give what you do pay to oil companies, then write the laws so those companies pay a fraction of what they should. Because it’s all in their personal interest. If they can get you to vote in their interests instead of yours, they win, and they won’t shed a tear for you.
Everything the right does is designed to help themselves, not anyone else. And the damnedest thing is, they tell people right up front – they want to be “personally free”, they want “personal responsibility”. All this time, you thought they were trying to tell you that you were irresponsible. What they were really telling you is that they don’t give a damn about you, they’re being “personally responsible” for themselves and no one else.