Katrina vanden Heuvel: Hillary Should Challenge the Right’s ‘Constrained’ Idea of Freedom

June 10th, 2015 5:55 PM

When it comes to the word “freedom,” liberals and conservatives long have told each other, in effect, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Take Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, who in a Tuesday Washington Post column urged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to endorse a “far more expansive” concept of freedom than the right’s “constrained notion” that’s held sway in America since the Reagan era.

Market-oriented, anti-government ideas about freedom, vanden Heuvel claimed, have brought about “an economy serving the few, and a politics corrupted by money,” whereas Hillary can become an ideological heir to FDR if she “take[s] on the economic royalists of this day” by calling for measures such as “fair taxes on the rich and corporations,” “vital public investments…in new energy, in infrastructure, in education and training,” and expanded Social Security.

From vanden Heuvel’s column (bolding added):

This weekend, Hillary Clinton will unveil her “vision for the country” at a mass rally at the FDR Four Freedoms Park in New York City…

…The stunning Louis Kahn memorial to Roosevelt can be more than just a setting for Clinton. It can inspire her to a far broader and bolder mission: to challenge directly, as Roosevelt did, the constrained notion of freedom that has dominated our politics since Ronald Reagan, and to offer a more expansive, empowering view of America’s experiment…

At the start of World War II, Roosevelt rallied Americans to the noble cause of the “four freedoms” — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear…These were the basis of the Economic Bill of Rights that Roosevelt detailed in his 1944 State of the Union address, arguing that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”

Over the last several decades, the conservative era launched by Reagan has promoted a far more limited definition of freedom. For conservatives, freedom is centered in markets, free from government interference. The entrepreneur, not the citizen, is the central actor. Government is the threat; the best thing it can do is to get out of the way. With the glaring exceptions of global intervention and the bloated military, conservatives argue that freedom entails privatization, deregulation, limiting government’s reach and capacity.

For years, Democrats chose to tack to these conservative winds. Bill Clinton’s New Democrats echoed the themes rather than challenge them…

Barack Obama came to office…after Wall Street’s excesses blew up the economy…But Obama chose consciously not to challenge the conservative limits on what freedom means…The conservative notion of freedom once more resulted in an economy serving the few, and a politics corrupted by money.

This is Hillary Clinton’s historic opportunity. The greatest threat to freedom now is posed by the entrenched few that use their resources and influence to rig the rules to protect their privileges. She would do a great service for the country — and for her own political prospects — by offering a far more expansive American view of what freedom requires, and what threatens it…

The big unanswered question is whether [Hillary] is prepared — as FDR was — to take on the economic royalists of this day…Will she favor fair taxes on the rich and corporations to rebuild the United States and put people to work? Will she make the case for vital public investments — in new energy, in infrastructure, in education and training — that have been starved for too long? Will she call for breaking up banks that are too big to fail? Will she favor expanding social security, now that corporations have virtually abandoned private pensions?

No single speech can or should answer all these questions. Far more important is to offer Americans a bolder conception of freedom in the American experiment, and to make it clear who stands in the way.