Freedom Not Invited To The Party

Reason Magazine’s Steve Chapman reviews the recently concluded Democratic and Republican Conventions and notes that there was one thing missing from both; liberty:

So what was missing? Only what used to be held up as the central ideal of the party. The heirs of Goldwater couldn’t spare a day for freedom.

Neither could the Democrats. Their daily topics this year were “One Nation,” “Renewing America’s Promise,” and “Securing America’s Future.” The party proclaimed “an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights.” Expanding and upholding individual liberty? Not so much.

Forty-four years after Goldwater’s declaration, it’s clear that collectivism, not individualism, is the reigning creed of Republicans as well as Democrats. Individuals are not valuable and precious in their own right but as a means for those in power to achieve their grand ambitions.

You will scour the presidential nominees’ acceptance speeches in vain for any hint that your life is rightfully your own, to be lived in accordance with your beliefs and desires and no one else’s. The Founding Fathers set out to protect “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but Barack Obama has a different idea.

The “essence of America’s promise,” he declared in Denver, is “individual responsibility and mutual responsibility”—rather than, say, individual freedom and mutual respect for rights. The “promise of America,” he said, is “the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.”


What do Republicans believe in? McCain told us Thursday: “We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law…. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities.”

Would it be too much to mention that what sustains the American vision of those things is freedom? That without it, personal responsibility becomes hollow and service is servitude?

Apparently, for both parties it would. John McCain’s campaign slogan during the convention was “Country First,” not “Freedom First”, heck not even “Family First.” The unstated assumption one draws from such a slogan is that loyalty to country, and the willingness to sacrifice oneself to the same must come before everything else, including, when necessary, your own freedom.

The Democrats aren’t any better, of course; it was Barack Obama who said in his acceptance speech:

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is — you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps — even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Because, in Barack Obama’s world and the world in which most of his supporters seem to live, the idea that people can do better on their own than they can with the help of a supposedly benevolent state is completely foreign. They reject it not because they don’t think it works, they reject it because they can’t conceive of the idea that individuals are better suited to make decisions for themselves than the educated and elite bureaucrats who supposedly know what is good for the masses.

It wouldn’t have mattered which convention he watched over the past two weeks because, in either case, Barry Goldwater was most assuredly spinning in his grave.

Cross-Posted at Below The Beltway

  • Kay

    Frankly, I don’t see the “Country First” slogan as being before freedom – the way I interpret it, and what I believe is meant is that all that is inherent in this country’s core and roots – i.e., our freedom and liberty – is to be protected at all cost. Now, do I believe that the republicans, or anyone else in the world of today will uphold that? Not on your life. Do I believe they have good intentions? Yes, I do. Perhaps that is a bit idealistic, but in reality, it’s no more idealistic than holding onto hope that a Bob Barr (who? is the reaction you get on the street to that name) is going to have a significant impact on this election.

  • Doug Mataconis


    The GOP can intend all it’s wants, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    People who believed in free markets and individual liberty voted Republicans into office in 1994 and again in 2000 and 2004 and what did we get for it ?

    The word “screwed” comes to mind.

    George W. Bush may as well have been Lyndon Baines Johnson, because he’s increased the size of government even more than the previous President from Texas did.

  • Alex

    It was interesting to see Goldwater Jr. speak at the “Rally for Ron Paul” while the GOP convention was occurring. For those in attendance at the RNC, I wonder if the image of “Mr. Conservative’s” son attending a counter-convention moved them to think about the direction of their party’s policies?

  • Quincy

    Republicans are only individualists when they’re out of power. Once in, they are autocratic collectivists, just like Democrats. This is not news.

  • Brad Warbiany


    “Country First” in itself does not carry the connotations that Doug is insinuating. When you add it to the rest of McCain’s record, and some of the things he has said glorifying national service over the “narrow interests”, and you get a different picture.

    McCain is not an individualist by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Doug Mataconis

    Kay & Brad,

    My problem with the “Country First” idea is that it comes dangerously close to a form of nationalism prevalent in conservative circles that is, at its core, anti-liberty.

  • Akston

    When a speaker emphasizes duty to country over liberty, I find myself asking “who gets to decide what constitutes my duty, and to whom?” Speeches telling me my judgment is inferior to some collective, as interpreted by an anointed speaker, were plentiful in both conventions.

    Take this, for example:

    “It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole…that above all, the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual…we understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow man.”

    But of course, that one wasn’t at either convention this year. I’m just trying to be a good citizen and obey Godwin’s Law.