Following former Senator Rick Santorum’s close-second finish in the Iowa Republican caucuses, a Santorum voter cited “faith, family, and freedom” as the values he and his wife shared with the candidate. Well, here’s what I say to you, Santorum supporter: You can take those three F’s and shove ’em.
But…wait! Aren’t they the “basic values” which (as Santorum says) “Americans believe in?” And isn’t stressing those values (according to the candidate) how the Republicans can “defeat Barack Obama?”
By such a statement, isn’t Santorum implying, and not so subtly at that, that Obama and by extension his supporters and by further extension non-Republicans in general are False-Americans of some kind?
But leave that aside, for we have weightier F’s to pick at.
Candidates are always talking about faith. They often leave off the adjective, but they mean religious faith, of course – they are never shy about invoking the Christian God. Yet religious faith is by no means a “basic American value.” The only basic value as far as religion is concerned is the freedom to practice or not practice as we choose.
Obama’s recognition of “non-believers” in his inauguration speech three years ago suggested that public discourse may be softly inching in a less religion-bound direction. The day may soon come when politicians won’t have to pretend they believe in supernatural forces or higher powers in order to run serious candidacies, and when those who do have honest religious faith can finally stop talking about it in public so much. (Oh, what a relief that will be!)
When candidates invoke “family” and “family values,” they are using sneaky code words. What they mean by “family” is the so-called traditional family of a mother, a father, and two-point-something gloriously heterosexual children. (Or, if you don’t believe in birth control, a whole gaggle of the hungry tykes). They never mean a family headed by a gay or lesbian couple or a single parent, or one that takes some other non-Fathers Knows Best arrangement.
Beyond that, how many families do you hear about these days that aren’t justly depicted with the adjective “dysfunctional?” A sorry few indeed.
Just as these flip family-focused fools insist “faith” is something we all share, they demand “family” conform to their hidebound (and unrealistic) standard. Families are good, if you have a good one. But they’re not the foundation of the American Way.
“The essential issue in this race is freedom,” said Santorum in his speech after the Iowa caucus. Of course, we all value specific freedoms – religion, assembly, speech. But invoking freedom itself as the key “value” ignores a critical distinction between freedom and liberty. The Constitution seeks to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Not freedom, and there’s a reason.
As anti-copyright writer Crosbie Fitch puts it, “Freedom is a lack of constraint. It is neither intrinsically noble nor inherently ethical. Ethical freedom is a lack of unethical constraint, and is more succinctly termed ‘liberty’. We do not have a right to freedom. We have a right to liberty – freedom constrained only by the equal rights of others.”
Take note: “Equal rights of others.” Our liberty and our freedoms are subject to rights. The eternally debated Second Amendment is a perfect example, with its phrasing: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” There’s no mention of freedom. You have a right to bear arms if it doesn’t infringe on others’ equal rights, and we may (and must) legitimately debate whether my “right” to reasonably safe city streets is equal to your “right” to carry a gun.
The use of “freedom” as a political commonplace isn’t just a matter of lexical imprecision. Freedom implies unfettered choice, which taken to the extreme means anarchy. So let’s get it right – especially here in the land of liberty.