As the right retreats from the theme of "freedom," the left sees an opening
Another "freedom-centered pitch" was delivered eighty years before the January 6 insurrection. On January 6, 1941 FDR gave his "Four Freedoms Speech" to Congress. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear were the four fundamental freedoms proposed to unite an isolationist leaning American public with "everyone in the world". We can be sure that the rest of the world will be watching the 2024 election campaign and looking, hoping for a positive, realistic vision that wins a majority of votes for Joe Biden and the Democrats while speaking to pro-democracy supporters everywhere.
"The land of the free....and the home of the brave" came to mind. It's definitely time to be "brave": to stand up and recalim our freedoms, to fully grasp the stakes of succumbing to the right's assault on democracy and law and order themselves. Thank you for this inspriing, comprehensive essay. Spot on, we hope!
Thank you for your intelligent critique of Democratic ideas as well as the rhetoric of Biden's new pitch.
Your advice to politicians is smart: Freedom is not the license to be selfish and disrespectful of laws and regulations, as reactionaries would think. Freedom means sharing opportunities for better health, schooling and safety, in our streets, workplaces and homes.
Biden's very effective launch ad shows how politically savvy he and his team are. A crucial goal of any campaign is to "brand" the opponent before the opponent can characterize her/him-self. trump's authoritarianism has been plain to the left and some independents for a long time. But with Dobbs, the SCOTUS so-called "justices" told the whole country loud and clear (and the country heard loud and clear) that their bosses are all about unfreedom. Biden has now securely attached unfreedom to trump (or any other Republican he might face) with tar and feathers. Republicans have tried to brand Biden as too old; unfortunately, too many on the left have bought into that. If the left would just think about it for a minute, Biden's political smarts and effective governance go far toward neutralizing the age issue. Anand, thank you for this great essay, which I think helps a lot to make this point. Who else but Biden among the Democrats can beat trump? I think the answer (at least so far) is no one.
Well, here's hoping. The message heretofore from the Democrats has been erratic, but mostly positive for people. We have at least two sabateurs in the ranks - well, only one now, officially. My vote is for Biden. I cannot conceive of anyone on the Republican side I would vote for. For those who think Sununu might be an acceptable Republican candidate, I have the feeling that he would be co-opted pretty quickly.
The Democratic party and its allies (the "Left") should frame their up-to-date concept of Freedom as freedom for ALL people, rich and middle-class and poor, management and labor, black and brown and white, native-born and immigrant, LGBTQ+ and cis/straight, able-bodied and disabled, old and young (the last remaining prejudice and form of discrimination that doesn't make anyone bat an eye is ageism). Not freedom FROM taxes, but greater freedom for all because everybody pays their fair share. This is how we win.
Thank you for this post- I appreciate this perspective.
Anand, have you read George Lakoff? If not, please put it at the top of your list: https://www.amazon.com/ALL-NEW-Dont-Think-Elephant-dp-160358594X/dp/160358594X/ref=dp_ob_title_bk - you'll find him invaluable, on point, and a voice in the wilderness to progressives for far, far too long ...
Also to everyone, speaking of tracing this back to the 60s, i urge you to find this 2015 documentary and watch: The Brainwashing of My Dad - it's powerfully instructive ... not only in how the rightwing conspirators manipulated like Oz behind the curtain but also includes in its concluding interviews with random folks who weaned themselves off the Koolaid evidences of how we can actually hope to achieve some deprogramming of numbed minds.
I wound up in response to Jamelle's column today in NYT and a provocative comment section as well realizing the parallel whereby "freedom" (Grifter-Oligarch-Prevaricator-speak) as opposed to freedom (no quotes) such as Anand highlights in Biden's stance - the parallel with Magritte's "Ce n'est pas une pipe" ... Their "freedom" is Magritte's "pipe" ...
But speaking of Lakoff and the urgency of attending to framing - I rail at the NYT routinely for how it is as bad or worse than Democratic campaign managers are daftly (or not) choosing verbs and adverbs and more that accept GOP definitions without seeing the ideological ramifications. I'm a sociolinguist like Lakoff so i've been attentive to such powers of word choices for eons but I think it took Florida 2000 for me to see the depths and pervasivity of GOP co-optation and both the MSM and Democrats just walk right in, drinking a linguistic koolaid ... It was the word "recount" in 2000. The Bushies assailed the idea of 'excess recounts' by redefining it to include ballots that had never been counted even once. And then I was the voice in the wilderness nobody would hear, shouting far and wide "It's not recounting if they've never been countable even once. Yet they got away with Magritting their illusion into perceived reality that it was about recounting when in fact it was about counting at all.
And so, in that vein, Anand: the word "pitch" carries water for the opposition. At least in my lexicon, pitch has the connotation of being something that's insincere, like something from Madison Ave. - an advertising pitch .. Imho, a headline calls for a less tainted word ... No matter how tactical Biden might be, I don't doubt his sincerity of passionate commitment to freedom ...
Which leads me to one more recommendation: See the Senate record from exactly 50 years ago as freshman Senator Biden testified before a hearing in re the FEC -- https://democracy21.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Biden-statement-1973-Senate-Admin.pdf -- about his alarms over (and proposal for ending) corruption in government, calling for exactly what I've been calling for - the biggie of all my cries in the wilderness, one I voiced on air in Anand's webinars two years ago:
pp. 202 - 207 of 1973 Senate Record - Biden's live testimony followed by his written submission
top of p. 207:
Biden: "In my judgment, the ideal public subsidy program would combine public subsidy as the only source of campaign financing – combined with compulsory free radio and television time. The solution may appear stiff; but the penalty, in the form of further erosion of voter confidence in the electoral system, is stiffer."
Join me in urging him to see 2024 as his time to campaign nationwide on his 50-years-long vision of what Everybody Knows of quid pro quo and what this remedy nation is starving for ... speaking of putting sincerity back into politics. Imho this is the only ultimate antidote to the toxicity ...
Cynical posturing is a two-party pastime. Where is the evidence that the Democrats -- my party -- is genuinely interested in reforming the system that punishes the majority of Americans and denies them any functional freedom? Where are the financial reforms, Senator Schumer, or health care reforms, Congresswomen Pelosi? (Congratulations on your award for your “incredible efforts in advancing health care” from the American Hospital Association, the industry’s lobbying group.) What’s happening to freedom of the press when Julian Assange rots away in solitary confinement, and three black socialist bloggers have been indicted by the DoJ for having unpatriotic views about the war in Ukraine? I'm a lifelong Democrat. I'll be 80 this year. Never have I felt such despair.
I subscribed to this Substack because of your interview on MSNBC tonight and this article.
I think your perspective is clear and on point.
But when MAGA Republicans speak about “freedom” they mean the freedom of white CIS men to continue behaving as though this were 1959 instead of 2023. DeSantis, trump, McCarthy - all of them, want the freedom to run things as though Black people were second class citizens in perpetuity, as though women were never feminists, as though all people of color remained perpetually oppressed, because that is when these men feel free.
We on the left have to wrest control away from these men or their idea of freedom - the freedom to control everything and oppress everyone who is not like them - will prevail. It’s a terrifying but very possible outcome.
Two more lines of thought following up your much-appreciated telescopic view, Anand, across 60 years (and alas Reagan was my governor at the time) ... I'm here this time to focus on what Trump exploited and diverted in that legacy:
First, I'd add attention to how cleverly Trump's evil genius snuck his foot into the tent so as to arrive at "Trump spoke of [and to] people who needed a powerful protector - a.k.a him."
It often surprises me that people forget or discount that one of Trump's earliest appeals was to the Tea-Partier folks who (again seemingly forgotten by MSM) were as upset with the fallout from the Big Banks' unpunished role in the 2008 debacle as with ACA (which imho Obama should never have let them label "Obamacare" (as if LBJ would have let Medicare be called LBJcare). Imho Obama's gravest error – which began with his abandonment of public campaign financing - even when McCain was on board of course - to take the largesse of Wall Streeters and then staff his Cabinet with them – was not holding Big Banks (his donors) accountable, getting underwater homeowners out from drowning, and getting people back to work first. Those goals imho should have preceded and added to his political capital to 'spend' on ACA, and i dare say he - and we all - would have never gotten "shellacked" in 2010. I love Obama for many things (and he went to my college!) - but these were his blind spots imho. Big ones.
But Trump watched all that, and especially after he seethed like a volcano when Obama roasted him to his face with his comedic flair - but he did mock Trump - at that 2011 correspondents' dinner - i also often wonder if Trump would have ever run except out of hatred for Obama shaming him, even while he was the one who'd given Obama cause to do so with his birtherism ... I digress.
So from 2015's early days of his campaign, Trump stirred the anger at government helping Wall St. over Main St. and that a large swath of people saw (imho rather justifiably alas) Obama as beholden to Wall St. And Trump pitched to them that it was his alleged mega-wealth that made him "unbeholden" (his word for himself - ha!) to Big Money because he *was* big money - claiming as one of his early self-myths that he'd never been nor would be beholden to the puppeteers of Wall St. - Ha! he'd had a lifetime of endebtedness to them) and that he'd be the one and only who could "Clean the Swamp" (of lobbyists and other holders of quid-quo-pro debt -- although most Americans didn't know that term until Trump himself exemplified it vis-a-vis Zelenskyy)...
[wow, this thread of reasoning is getting pretty tangled - in syntax if nothing else - hoping i'm not being too contortionist in articulating this interwoven lineage of Trump's grift]
So my first point is that Trump's foot in the door to "Only I can fix it" was precisely through the hole in people's trust that is the quid pro quo of campaign financing and the real and perceived endebtedness of elected officials to do payback at Main St.'s expense. I doubt most of those who at least became quickly Trumpistas would know of or associate with Leonard Cohen but his lyrics to "Everybody Knows" captured exactly what is rotten in our politics, and Trump saw a big chunk of those cynicized by observed corruption whom he could beguile like a Pied Piper ... and so he did.
Thus, imho, it was the foot in the door to tell crowds first that it was his alleged uber-wealth that could make him the only "fixer" and "cleaner" of the swamp and that he alone could rise above corruption. And, man, he truly twisted them with his projections of corruption on his designated enemies: I happened into youtube yesterday because a link sent me there to see Biden's new video and the literally thousands of Trumpista commenters already on that video site who are utterly blind to Trump's corruption that he projects on to Biden and they swallow hook line and sinker is ... chilling.
From casting himself as savior due to his wealth, it was a fairly short step to Trump converting his claimed unique capacity to 'clean the swamp' into the grander hitlerian claim to be protector of all (who qualify aka aryan etc.) in every way.
Second is a point that yesterday's unsought tumble on youtube down the rabbit hole of hatred from the right brought home to me as being more vicious than ever (i'd seen it on youtube in 2020 too, broadcasting phony videos to condemn Biden). But now with his Presidency to attack as well, the word "Freedom" was a trigger for new layers of contempt from them all, blinded to what is freedom vs. what is "freedom" (as i noted below as a Magrittean distinction) ... The point I would make here regards your hopefulness, Anand, which heaven knows I share, and you're not naive either, but there are LEGIONS out there who have been so thoroughly licensed to translate Shenker-Osorio's lesson into their own world view: To them too, yes, freedom was/is corporeal ... and they managed to turn the feel on the skin of wearing a mask or getting poked with a vaccine into their fighting-words redefining of "freedom" as being the freedom to be maskless and unprotected (after all *he* is their protector) aka the freedom to spread virus that kills (where Herman Cain could be Exhibit A). This of course fits and converges with the "freedom" to own arsenals of military weapons that kill.
And just on those two grounds alone, they too would probably second Shenker-Osorio's words. But they do so from the perspective of an entirely alternative universe of whatshername's "alternate facts" and their visceral notion of Biden being the one who's the villain robbing freedom ...
Well, i just seek to alert that there's a brainwashing that will be doing their version of "I'm rubber, you're glue" as to which old man (starting with which one they're even prone to call "old") stands for freedom and which one for corruption. And they're going to do so until the cows come home. I sense those folks will never be unbrainwashed (and it pains me most vividly cuz it includes my nephew i loved from birth over 60 years ago) ... (Still I cling to a hope that the documentary I ref'd below - The Brainwashing of My Dad - offers from a testimonial of a returnee from what would now be called MAGAland.) What i saw on youtube yesterday drove home that it's going to get a lot uglier before this realignment of what counts as freedom – and who is championing the kind that doesn't warrant quotation marks around it - prevails and especially prevails enough to not just 'capture' majorities but majorities strong enough to change the processes and not 'just' the products of (watered down) legislation that truly protects ... all people... (As you know already here, imho that includes full public funding to cork all the places where quid pro quo makes its inroads.)
speaking of freedom ...
holding in heart and mind here a space to mourn and honor Harry Belafonte, a pioneering champion of social justice who, far more 'quietly' than most (ironic given his talents and voice) moved political mountains mostly from behind-the-scenes ... although if you've never seen what he did (with credit to Johnny Carson for tapping him to have the chance) when he was the first Black guest host of late-night TV in February 1968 and he transformed that medium forever by making his week of shows unprecedentedly political and serious. He interviewed both MLK and RFK just months before their assassinations as well as others in and out of the entertainment world who were political activists like Paul Newman for example, and it opened the door for what eventually became a turf for Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah et al ... (you can google for youtube clips and also a documentary a couple of years ago about his week hosting the Johnny Carson show)
His songs – that first launched him accompanied my elementary school years and were among the first records of mine (45s in those days) - endeared me to infectious phrases like "me wanna go home" that I would croon along with, become 'earworms' and that still linger fondly, but it was his courage politically that I treasure most and well up with missing him and also that sense of ever-forward progress we once had that now feels so precarious.