Friday, 4 April 2014

Let Freedom Ring



I was involved this week in an interesting back on forth with friends, friends of friends, and at least one relative about the relative success of the launch of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) back in the US (often called "ObamaCare" both derisively by its detractors, and approvingly by its supporters).

The discussion touched on many issues, such as the level of coverage, the cost, who was to "blame" for its short-comings (even its most fervent supporters are forced to admit that it is far from ideal), and the like.  In my own view, the Act represents most of what I see are the worst aspects of American government process these days.

In any case, near the end of the discussion - one in which I found myself in the rather odd position of being obliquely accused of being a liberal - one of the participants complained, loudly, that the ACA and President Obama are markers of the tremendous "destruction" of liberty in the USA.

Now, aside from the shock of being painted as some sort of left winger (I have personally been called a crypto-fascist right to my face; there is nothing "crypto" about my alleged "fascism," which has always been pretty much in plain view), I found the whole "Obama is destroying our freedom" trope strange from someone whom I suppose was a big supporter of the previous president and his "War on Terror."  

When I asked the commenter if he had a similar view of George W Bush, my question was answered with a remark about spending, followed by a question about as someone who comes from Canada and lives in France what I might possibly know about freedom.

As an aside, it's true I live in Paris, and it's also true that my younger brother "outed" me as a Canadian by birth earlier.  However, I have lived most of my life in the US, although the majority of that was in California, which I suspect the other party regards as part of the creeping anti-American Fifth Column.

It's an attitude, however, that I suspect is shared by people beyond this individual.  That is, that the USA, alone, is a 'free' country, and its citizens, again alone, really know and understand freedom.  

Is it really fair, however?  True?  

Again, I come from Canada, although I moved to the US with my family as a small child (again, to Los Angeles, California, perhaps the epicentre of soft-headed liberalism).  Is Canada less "free" than the US?  Is it a sort of Big Brother, 1984 nightmare?  Is that how Americans, when they think of Canada, view the country?  How is Canada less "free" than the US?  

My suspicion is that most Americans in all honesty have little first-hand knowledge of whether Canada is "free" or not.  If the aforementioned President Bush - who fell prey to the practical joke of being asked, on camera, his views about "Prime Minister" Poutine (a side dish of potatoes and cheese) - is used as a yard stick, I suspect that the knowledge is very, very thin.  Most, perhaps, know that in Canada, the ready availibility of hand guns is not what it is in the States, which I suppose is a sort of restriction on "freedom." 

But we all know that Canada is a socialist, tax-spend-regulate nightmare, right?  Bill O'Reilly frequently complains about the country. 

On the other hand, a recent report by the libertarian think tank The Heritage Foundation found that Canada ranked sixth in the world in terms of economic liberty.  

The US was 12th.

Hmmmm....

The country I currently call home - France - is frequently the target of negative pieces back in the States as well.  Because Paris refused to back the US invasion of Iraq, "French Fries" became "Freedom Fries" in the US Capitol dining room.  Never mind, of course, that "French" fries are actually from Belgium.

Is France less "free" than the US? Do the French not really understand freedom, other than what they see in Hollywood movies?

It's true that in France, there are restrictions on speech (for example, one may not make claims denying the Holocaust).  The erstwhile comedian Dieudonné Mbala Mbala ran afoul of the local authorities when his one man show mocked Zionists and Holocaust activists.  And the French are quite comfortable with the omnipresence of closed circuit cameras in the public sphere.

Yet, as a resident of Paris, there is not a palpable feel of Big Brother, waiting just off stage to leap in hustle me off to a dark, windowless room.  

Then again, I come from Canada, so maybe I don't really "understand" freedom.

At the same time, Americans, following September 11, seem more than happy to see some of their own freedoms eroded.  Phone spying, the PATRIOT Act, pat-downs at the airport.  All in the name of "security."

Who is really "free?"

It's worth pointing out that many of the ideas of freedom, however, arise in France - Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu were all French, as was Alexis de Toqueville.  Thomas Jefferson, perhaps one of the leading minds in American political history, was a great admirer of the French and passed many years in Paris, as did Benjamin Franklin.  Both knew a thing or two about freedom.

I've included below a "heat" map of the levels of freedom throughout the world, from another think tank (Freedom House) who receive about 2/3 of its funding from the US government.  It doesn't offer any comparison directly among the US, France, and Canada, but from the map, none looks to be the second coming of the Soviet Union.

World Map Displaying Levels of "Freedom" in Our World
Don't get me wrong; I am proud to be an American - even an ersatz one who sneaked in from Canada.  I love my country.

But I find the idea that the US has cornered the market on freedom, and that others simply cannot "understand" freedom, well, laughable.

Ha ha ha.

Happy Friday.  I'm going to go out and celebrate with some French, freedom-crushing vodka as I listen to the local, government-funded orchestra play The Internationale.

Which was written in France.
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