Democrats & Liberals Archives

A Dollar Per Mention

Mention of what? The word “freedom”.

Am I saying we shouldn’t speak of it? Of course not. What I’m saying is we shouldn’t wear this word out. Freedom this, freedom that. The Freedom Towers! Freedom Fries! The world wants freedom.

Bush in particular has an atrocious habit of using this word as if the rest of us don’t know what it means. It’s funny, though, that as one Republican after another makes a Gregorian chant of the word, they decry the use of that freedom by us Democrats to oppose them.

It's been my observation that the more people use a word or a catchphrase, the more life gets drained out of it. Take the word "extreme". Once, it was meaningful to call something extreme. Now, even your deodorant is extreme.

Do we really want freedom, as a word, to become so banal? Some would say "Oh, it can't possibly become so banal!"

But it can. What happens when the Iraqis or Lebanese make some decision that we don't like? Will we do what we did in the Cold War: speak of freedom, then turn around and do our best to frustrate it?

There is something in the human and spiritual experience of us all that corresponds to that word freedom, in its finest sense. Used enough, though, that word freedom will just become an evocation for use whenever some politician wants to ennoble their agenda, and avoid criticism for mistakes, or digressions from the public will.

Example? I remember Rumsfeld speaking of freedom when the chaos overtook post-invasion Iraq, with looting and rioting. Oh, freedom is messy, he said. Freedom hurts a little. But what we saw wasn't freedom, but the breakdown in law and order that would ultimately keep us in Iraq for the foreseeable future, where we could have completed the mission sooner.

Right now, I doubt the Iraqis think of themselves as being all that free. Even out from under the burden of Saddam Hussein, they are beset by both the weight of our occupation, and the pressures of the insurgency. Bush speaks of freedom, and yes, the elections were a great example of that. But we had to essentially lock the country down, ban vehicular traffic, in order to make it safe for the people to vote. We had to take freedom from them in one form, to give it to them in another. Since then, the violence has returned, it's tyranny of fear once more preying on the innocent Iraqi. A hundred and twenty-five people in the last blast. Will we be gone by the next year, the year after that? We don't know.

Hopefully, our presence will lead to their freedom. Some people have more than just hopes. Some people take it on faith that it will happen. That, however is a dangerous sensibility, especially if our government acts from expedience. In the late 80's and early 90's, we told the world to shrug off the bonds of tyranny. Well, in Iraq, after the Gulf War, we told the Shia to do that, but we didn't follow through, and Saddam Hussein crushed them mercilessly. If you want to guess why the Shia didn't spring to our aid like before, that piece of history is of supreme interest. And of course, there were the trade unionists and student democracy advocates who got crushed in Tiananmen Square, with no real penalties.

Freedom isn't free, as some are wont to say. It will be supremely ironic if in cheapening this word we end up making its reality prohibitively expensive for ourselves in blood and treasure.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at March 1, 2005 7:23 AM