Kentucky voices

Ky. voices: Ron Formisano says Obama should talk about freedom

October 16, 2012 

Ron Formisano is the author of the Tea Party: A Brief History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), and a history professor at the University of Kentucky.

Since his debate with Gov. Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama has been getting loads of advice from pundits, who lament his failure to effectively rebut the new Romney claims that contradicted the Republican nominee's previous positions.

Critics said he never mentioned Romney's comment that 47 percent of Americans are "victims" "dependent on government" who would not vote for him; nor that before that night he said repeatedly he would lower taxes by 20 percent on the wealthiest Americans (and by the way lowering taxes on Romney, himself).

And while we are on that subject, what about the methods Romney uses to avoid paying taxes on much of his wealth? Is it fair (and moral, a word Romney used) that he pay less taxes than many middle and even low-income American taxpayers?

Could Obama not have questioned him pointedly about exactly which deductions and loopholes on the wealthy he intends to close? He did point out that those mystery loopholes — which Romney refuses to specify — could not possibly add up to $5 trillion.

And could Obama not have pressed him to say the word "voucher," after he avoided using that word in answer to moderator Jim Lehrer's question about his plans for Medicare? After all, he did endorse running mate Paul Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system for the age 55 and under cohort. And when Romney boasted he would create jobs, what about his Bain capital firm shipping jobs overseas?

Since Romney finally mentioned being governor of Massachusetts (after routinely ignoring his term in office and touting his business experience), could Obama not have described how he ran as a liberal in blue Massachusetts to win office, then flip-flopped to "severely conservative" for the Republican primaries? Indeed that he was then executing another flip-flop, the "Etch-A-Sketch," right before our eyes. And he was asking millions of Americans, as Groucho Marx once said, "are you going to believe me or your lying eyes (and ears)?"

But I would like to offer advice the president not have heard, far more important stuff about his differences with his opponent. Do not let him repeatedly use the equation that only the free market equals freedom, and that government represents regulation and not freedom.

Do not let him or Republicans appropriate the rhetoric of freedom and set up government as its antithesis. Without government protections, we would have no freedom.

Obama said that the president and government's first duty is to keep Americans safe. But Americans enjoy their freedoms because of that government provided security.

Government provides the ability for working people — through guaranteeing safety and fairness — to avoid domination by bosses, to enjoy freedom of the workplace, and not be treated like slaves.

Without the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Obama signed into law, women would not be free to act to be paid the same as men for doing exactly the same work.

Unions provide the same protections, and Romney strongly supported Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's high-handed attempt to break public sector unions and to take away the ability for them to freely engage in collective bargaining. Their freedom.

Next time, Obama must say that government is a source of empowerment and freedom against the oppressions of greedy actors on Wall Street who threaten the freedom to own a home and have a job; that government protects workers against corporate managers who put profit above the health and lives of workers, and without life freedom is meaningless; and that government stands between citizens and powerful national and global interests who want the rules of all economic life to be gamed in their favor, taking away our freedom to pursue our happiness.

Obama has championed a fair playing field for all citizens, but he must make it clear that without government as umpire, freedom of opportunity disappears.

So please say the word "freedom," Mr. President, and often.

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