Sunday, May 04, 2008

How free is FREE?

I have been mulling over the latest political brouhaha in the US primary race. I think it's symbolic of how shallow the US's purported commitment to freedom really is.

Senators Obama and Clinton are locked in a 'fight to the death' in the democratic primaries. Into the midst of this melee springs a surprise (Obama machine) monkey wrench, the Wright Wrench. Now, suddenly, Obama turns tail and runs for cover, rebuking his overzealous ex-pastor and in the final analysis losing (in my unAmerican opinion) his perceived moral edge over his eagerly expectant rival.

The politics of the situation is rather comic. Whoever wins will be a 'historic' candidate in remarkable ways. So, I am not overly exercised by the potential outcome. Past experience has taught me never to be overly optimistic in these matters, for Americans generally seem more enamoured of the more caddish candidate and have always voted these known bad apples in for a second term and with their eyes wide open too.

What does interest me is the shallowness of the meaning of 'freedom' for Americans. One is welcome to be free, it seems, as long as that freedom does not extend to criticizing anything American. America is always good. America is always right. American foreign policy is always eminently fair... Any dissent is unAmerican. Any dissenter is a traitor. You are free only to believe and espouse one American truth.

One need not agree with a Wright, or for that matter with a Ward Churchill ("little Eichmanns" title link), or even a Farrakhan, or with anyone who refuses to wear a flag lapel pin... But, if one believes in freedom, if one really believes in freedom, one has to respect the dissenter and the dissenter's right to dissent.

At one time it was traitorous and unBritish for the erstwhile colonists to speak out against their God-appointed king. The dissent on which a potentially great democracy was founded was enshrined in the American Constitution's main text and then specifically spelled out in the very justly famous "First Amendment". It is a fundamental human right to be free to disagree!

One would think that being a member of a church where a pastor dares to speak what he sees as the truth, should be a big plus point for a presidential candidate. Here is someone who says that they admire the person and agree with some of what that person stands for and yet recognises that person's fundamental right to hold views that are unpopular.

Ask yourself: Is agreement necessary for acceptance? Does unpopular = unAmerican? I also wonder, does criticism of America mean less love for America, or even less patriotism?

If I were a psychoanalyst, I might even wonder whether such obvious displays of hypersensitivity may not be symptomatic of some under-the-surface feelings of GUILT?
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