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The hottest Republican buzzword today is “freedom.” It shows up in NRA talking points, names of groups like FreedomWorks, names of bills like South Carolina’s Firearms Freedom Act, which would exempt guns manufactured and used in South Carolina from federal gun safety laws, and elsewhere. That’s because, like motherhood and apple pie, everyone favors “freedom.” Moreover, the word is designed to root into voters’ subconscious to make the talking points, organizations and bills more appealing. It’s brainwashing. If you doubt that, check out how the right-wing National Taxpayers Union counted the number of times the word “freedom” appeared in the Democrats’ 2009 health care bill. But Democrats are the true defenders of freedom, if only they would say so. Here’s how:

Gun violence – Democrats should argue that the public’s right to freedom from gun violence outweighs the rights of criminals and mentally ill people to obtain guns easily, often without a background check, and commit mass murder. Freedom from gun violence goes hand in hand with the core Democratic Party principles of protection and security, and even furthers the “right to life” that Republicans love to tout.

Economy — The Republican version of economic “freedom” is the old laissez-faire ideology of big business unfettered by either taxes or regulation which caused the Great Depression and the Bush Recession. We all know how that ended up — millions of Americans lost their jobs, many small businesses went under, many Americans lacking food, shelter and medicine or health care. Even worse, Republicans rig the game by giving wealthy individuals and big business large tax breaks, tax credits, etc. That’s hardly “freedom” for the rest of us. Democrats should state that true economic “freedom” is economic mobility, the ability to climb the ladder of success and achieve the American Dream. This often requires a good education, a safety net to keep people out of poverty, access to affordable health care, equal pay for equal work, and a tax code where millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share — in short, the very principles of the Democratic Party.

Health care – When it comes to health care, Republican “freedom” means the freedom not to be able to afford it. Republicans fought (and still fight) vehemently against the Affordable Care Act, yet they offered no real solutions other than the status quo, in which over 45 million Americans had no health insurance, and where the majority of personal bankruptcies were due to medical costs. Democrats should argue that the Affordable Care Act and other health care proposals (such as universal single payer coverage) help give Americans freedom from poverty, freedom from early death or debilitating illness, and freedom to look for a new job or new career rather than feeling pressured to stay in their existing job for fear of losing their health care coverage.

Defense - President George W. Bush used to say that terrorists “hate our freedoms.” Republicans also say that our troops “fight for our freedom” or even for “Iraqi Freedom.”  But the use of “freedom” by Bush and the Republicans was bogus. Bush turned away from capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and invaded Iraq which had not threatened Americans’ freedom. It took President Barack Obama to get bin Laden. Obama continues to clean up Bush’s messes, ending the Iraq War and beginning to bring American troops home from Afghanistan. Thus, according to the standard created by Republicans, President Obama and the Democrats are upholding freedom. Likewise, Democrats are standing up for freedom by pressuring President Obama to end, curtail or add more oversight of his use of drones.

Equality — There are many issues where Republicans are fighting against fairness and equality for Americans, and Democrats are fighting for it. The list encompasses marriage equality, paycheck fairness and the Republican “War on Women” that includes abortion restrictions. Democrats have done a good job in promoting equality and fighting against Republicans such as Todd Akin who oppose it. Democrats also need to connect these issues of equality and fairness to freedom. For example, it’s easy to point out that women who are forced to undergo an internal vaginal ultrasound — essentially a forced rape by the state — when seeking an abortion are being denied their “freedom.”

Legislation – Democrats can play the legislation name game too. For example, the 1966 “Freedom of Information Act,” which actually does what its title says, was introduced by Democratic Senator Edward Long of Missouri. Former Democratic Senator John Kerry apparently realized this naming principle when he introduced the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2013.

In short, “freedom” isn’t free when it’s been been bought, paid for and falsely used by Republicans. It’s time for Democrats to put the “free” back in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

[Originally published at Messaging Matters]

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