The Price of Freedom Isn’t Free

“The price of freedom isn’t free.” That’s a saying that ex-service people are fond of using, especially when they are in a more-righteous-than-thou mood. I’m grateful to those who have served, but more than a little put off by this, as in the former client who had an American flag the size of a tennis court in his office. I remarked on it, and he snapped at


me, “The price of freedom isn’t free, y’know!” As if I had claimed the opposite for some reason.

As it happens, he was right, but for reasons other than his pride in military service. Yes, the military does the government’s bidding here and abroad, but it isn’t the military that defends the rights and freedoms of American citizens.

It’s American citizens.

And we haven’t been doing a very good job of it over the past four decades. When the Reagan Administration struck down the FCC Fairness Doctrine, there wasn’t a great deal of pushback. The Fairness Doctrine required that if, for example, a broadcaster aired 15 minutes of liberal information or editorial content, they must balance it with 15 minutes of conservative content on the same subject.

Prior to the elimination of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, we didn’t have Fox News. Or ClearChannel. Or Breitbart. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or Alex Jones. Sure, those folks were out there, but they didn’t have a 24/7, 52-week media platform from which to propagate lies and disinformation. As a result, the country has become increasingly polarized as about one-third of the population has willingly walled themselves off from reality to marinate in the “information” they want to hear, as opposed to the truth.

The citizens should have taken to the streets when Citizens United was passed into law. But we didn’t. Citizens United, in brief, changed the status of corporations to people, allowing them to donate money to political campaigns and deeply influence the politics of the country.

The problem is, corporations aren’t people. They don’t act in the interests of the people, they act in the interests of corporations. So if our current laws and policies reflect little to negative concern for the wellbeing of actual human beings, that’s why. The laws weren’t passed for our benefit.

Voter suppression has always been a problem in this country, as certain groups strive to maintain power by excluding others from the political table. However, there are individuals and organizations that are deeply committed to preventing people of color, poor people, and liberals from voting. Here are just a few of the techniques deployed during the 2016 election:

  • Using a voting software program called CrossCheck, allegedly to prevent voter fraud, but in reality designed to throw qualified voters off the rolls when said voters tend to be in the undesired categories. Twenty-eight states used CrossCheck in 2016, throwing literally hundreds of thousands of registered voters off the rolls. Most of these voters were people of color, poor, young (likely to be liberal), or liberal.
  • Voter caging—requiring voters to verify their mailing addresses by sending them small postcards covered with tiny type that often are overlooked as junk mail. Failure to respond resulted in being eliminated from the rolls. These postcards, need I say, were mailed to communities whose residents are poor and/or minority.
  • Voter ID laws—requiring a state-issued ID to vote, which disadvantages poor people in particular as it requires them to travel to the DMV and pay for the ID.
  • Gerrymandering—this is an old (the term was first used in 1812) but successful technique that involves drawing up voting districts that concentrate conservative voters across as many districts as possible to create a conservative majority. (It could work both ways, but it’s mostly Republicans who do this.)
  • Mailing false voting information. Postcards with incorrect information on when and where to vote are mailed into districts with minority populations.
  • Poll closures. Polling places are strategically shut down or closed early in —you guessed it­—poor and minority neighborhoods.

As the Tea Party diligently worked to put whackadoodle candidates in positions of power all across the country, we liberals patiently waited for the checks and balances we’ve been told about to kick in.

Well, guess what? They didn’t.

Turns out you actually have to DO something for the checks and balances to work. As in protest, resist, rock the boat, take to the streets, speak out. As a result, the United States is no longer a beacon of freedom to the world. We are a third-rate developed country. We used to be number one in infant mortality survival, health care, human rights, education, income per capita, equitable distribution of wealth, etc., etc. None of that is true anymore. We’re just another corporate-owned, corrupt, greedy banana republic with an insane tinpot dictator at the helm, masses of increasingly poor citizens, viciously oppressed minorities, and an educational system that turns out ignorant, entitled mistakes like Donald J. Trump and company.

On the other hand, the United States has achieved primacy in many key areas. We are number one in percentage of our population in jail. We are also number one in how quickly we force new parents to return to work. The U.S. spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country (might have something to do with our abysmal healthcare statistics), despite the fact we get less than anybody else for the money. We also have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world and—surprise!—one of the highest rates of gun violence in the world.

Friends, we did not get here due to the enmity of foreign powers. No one attacked us to shove us down the scale of decency and freedom to occupy a position just under Slovakia. We did it to ourselves through irresponsible legislation, punitive laws, favoring corporate rights over human rights, pandering to religious interests (read Christian here), and failing to create an environment where education—the real kind, where you learn how to think—can flourish. And most of it came about because corrupt and greedy people want more money, and they’re not at all reluctant to take it out of your wallet.

The price of freedom isn’t free. We have to work constantly to deserve that freedom. When we see something like the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, or the passage of an insanely wrong law, we have to step up and work to overcome. I used to think that eternal vigilance was just a fancy patriotic way of describing our military. No, eternal vigilance is what we owe ourselves, our families, our communities and our country to prevent the enemies of freedom from invading the halls of power from within.

Let this be the last gasp of oligarchical power, corruption, and bigotry in this country. Let it be the last spasm of hatred for the poor, disadvantaged, minorities and women. Let it be the last of untrammeled corporate greed in this country. Stay awake, be vigilant, question everything. And let freedom ring again.

How To Deal with the Elephant in the Room

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I pride myself on variety, but the only thing I’ve really been paying attention to recently is politics. I don’t want this blog to become a political blog.

However, I’m going to post one more politically oriented piece, because I want all liberals and progressives in this country to understand the implications. It’s not about my ideas. I want to summarize the book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” by Dr. George Lakoff, a neural scientist. Despite his heavyweight scientific credentials, the book is very accessible and easy to read.

Dr. Lakoff wrote the first version of the book in 2008 to explain to liberals and progressives (I’m just going to say liberals from now on) how and why the Republicans have been able to direct the national dialogue and get Tea Party candidates into legislative seats locally, statewide, and nationally. He shows how our brain’s wiring leads to conservatism or liberalism. Reading his book opened my eyes wide, and I’m hoping all liberal politicians will read it, too.

Lakoff talks in terms of “frames.” Frames are concepts we have in our brains that are evoked by words. So when I say “taxes,” it evokes “pay for our infrastructure and services” in my liberal brain. A conservative’s brain has a frame that taxes are bad, a burden. So when Republicans in the George W. era came up with the term, “tax relief,” conservatives saw it as saving them from the bad thing, making the Republicans heroic. The problem is, the rest of the culture­—especially the media—picked up that verbiage. Every time “tax relief” is repeated, it becomes a more firmly entrenched frame.

Republicans did the same thing with the Affordable Care Act by calling it Obamacare, which everyone (me included) immediately started using. It evokes a negative frame with conservatives, so much so that there are many Republicans who have only just now discovered they are losing their health insurance. They thought they were safe because they weren’t on Obamacare—they were on the ACA.

The Republicans have been doing this effectively and successfully for the past 40 years. We liberals are wa-a-a-a-ay behind. Let’s see how they do it.

Morality and Politics

Lakoff states that all politics is moral. By this he means that people vote according to their morality, not necessarily according to self-interest. (I know, how could they possibly vote for an amoral beast like Trump? Bear with me.)

Morality for conservatives looks something like this:

  • Society needs a strong leader. Like a strict father, he knows best and will tell us what the right thing to do is. This is why many conservatives are deeply religious. Religion provides a strict, clear guide to behavior and thought. Trump is seen as a strong leader in this mold.
  • Children are born bad and they have to be “made” good with the direction of a strict father who teaches them right from wrong. By extension, this applies to citizens and their leadership.
  • People need to do what they are told. If they fail to do so, they must be punished. Without punishment, there can be no morality.
  • Wealthy people are admired because obviously, they are doing the right thing. Religious people see riches as God’s blessing on the deserving (helped along by the evangelicals who have for some time now encouraged their followers to “seed” the blessings of wealth by giving to their churches, in the expectation that God will return it to them many-fold). The wealthy create jobs, and their money trickles down to the lower orders (despite the fact this has been debunked over and over it is firmly entrenched in the conservative brain).
  • Poor people are obviously undeserving because they are poor. They choose to be poor. We should not give them “free stuff” like food stamps, healthcare, education, early childhood enrichment, etc., because that will just make them more lazy and undeserving. This is why Republicans want to cut taxes—not to provide “tax relief” to the working class, but to cut social services entirely if possible.
  • Moral people take responsibility for themselves and do not need “free stuff.” Morality is linked to prosperity. Prosperity is linked to self-interest, therefore morality is linked to self-interest. (Hence voting your morality is seen as voting for your self-interest, whether or not that is the case in fact.)
  • Government is bad because it takes our hard-earned money and spends it foolishly by providing services (“free stuff”) to the undeserving. We need taxes so that we have a strong military, however.
  • Liberals are bad people. They just want free stuff. They have bad morals, as evidenced by their support for abortion and LGBTQ rights. Liberals want to raise taxes so they can give away your money to the undeserving. They are stupid because they don’t see things the way conservatives do. And if you are a Breitbart News follower, liberals are behind everything evil.
  • Women are not equal to men. They do not have or deserve authority because they are weak and emotional. They need a strong man to show them the right way.

There’s more, but this ought to be sufficient to set the stage and explain why deeply religious people voted for Trump. Rationally, you might think that a billionaire with two divorces and five children by three different wives, multiple affairs, a suspected child rapist, a confessed sexual assaulter, someone who cheats his contractors and doesn’t pay taxes and possibly is a Russian collaborator would not be the first choice for religious Christians. But they saw him as a strong leader who will build a wall, keep out the Muslims, and protect us. Despite his four bankruptcies, they also view him as an incredibly successful businessman. And he promised to cut taxes and bring back jobs to America. All of this is seen as virtuous.

Rather than rationally comparing Trump’s record with their espoused beliefs, they made Trump’s record conform to their beliefs and ignored the rest—assisted by the fake news that conservatives have been marinating in for the past three or four decades.

The world is a zero-sum game to conservatives; if you want to win, someone else has to lose. So in order for them to win, the Others—people of color, people of non-Christian beliefs, differently gendered people, foreigners—have to lose.

Obviously, not all conservatives have the entire mindset described above, but they all believe consciously or unconsciously in some part of it. If you are a liberal, this might be a bit hard to swallow. It seems too simplistic, but it’s true for many people at least some of the time. Many conservatives really do see you as a “libtard”—a stupid person with no morals who is probably unemployed and taking “free stuff” that conservatives imagine they are paying for with their taxes—and it pisses them off. I have seen this personally as I have wandered around the social media scene.

I’m not going to spend time on liberal morality, as presumably you, a liberal, already understand it. If there’s a conservative out there who by some weird chance has read this far and really wants to understand liberal morality, I would be happy to explain if you ask nicely.


A bad example of President Nixon’s framing gives us an idea of how framing does and does not work. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon famously said, “I am not a crook.” So everyone thought of him as a crook, as this was repeated over and over and over.

Repetition strengthens frames. So when using conservatives’ language and frames, we are handing them the argument. It’s critical to come up with frames that fit your argument and that cannot be used against you. It is critical not to repeat conservative framing, such as “alternative facts.” There is no such thing; what we’re talking about here is lies.

To come up with effective framing requires understanding the conservative point of view. Let’s take that hottest of hot potatoes, abortion. Conservatives have been conditioned by decades of propaganda to view abortion as murder. Liberals have rejected this without replacing it with anything more compelling than a “Republican War on Women.” This plays well with liberals, but conservatives believe that women need to be controlled, so it doesn’t resonate with them.

Let’s try framing it in terms of one of the conservatives’ most powerful words: liberty. When you tell women they cannot have abortions, you are removing their liberty and personal responsibility, but worse—it’s a short step from there to telling women how many children they may or may not have, as they did in China. Or telling them they can’t have children. You cannot be free when government has placed a restriction on your right to have or not have children.

A personal note here. The conservatives have used “pro-life” with great effect in contrast to the liberal “pro-choice.” Pro-choice says you’re just selfish; you are placing your own needs over the precious life of a child, as opposed to the obvious virtue of pro-life. I am using “pro-child”; every child born has the right to be cared for, fed, clothed, given an education and provided with the tools required for a happy and productive life within his or her abilities. No mention of abortion is made, but hidden within the frame of pro-child is an unstated support for abortion if the fetus is unwanted (as a way to begin life, being unwanted has a very poor outlook), too sick to survive, or a threat to the mother’s life.

Conservative politicians are also attacking pensions, Medicare and Social Security. The word “entitlement” is the actual language of the law for Medicare and Social Security. The conservatives easily began framing these services as “free stuff,” the sort of thing “entitled people” demand, when in fact they are either deferred earned salaries in the case of Social Security and pensions, or paid for in the form of premiums, as in Medicare. We must start pushing back on the term “entitlements” and even “benefits,” and begin pushing the concept of “deferred salaries” and “single-payer healthcare.”

How to Engage with Conservatives

There are essentially two types of conservatives from a communications standpoint. One group is composed of idealogues who are firmly entrenched in their beliefs and resist other ideas completely. You can’t engage with this group.

A second, and perhaps larger group of conservatives are those who hold both conservative and liberal ideas:






This “bi-conceptual” group can be appealed to by avoiding conservative framing and language and by following the following tactics laid out by Dr. Lakoff:

  • Remember that your liberal values are the true values of America. Be proud of them.
  • Remember that conservatives approve of a strong father-type of government. They don’t view it as dangerous, but as protective.
  • Show respect. If you do not treat conservatives with respect and indicate that you have at least heard them out, they will slam the door. Don’t get into a shouting match.
  • Distinguish between normal conservatives and nasty idealogues (like Steve Bannon). The everyday conservative usually has some progressive ideas that can be tapped into. Idealogues don’t, so don’t try. Most conservatives are more like you than not.
  • Be calm. Getting angry or defensive signals weakness and lack of conviction. (Remember that when you encounter those very sore winners on Facebook!)
  • Be passionate without losing control by becoming defensive.
  • Don’t give them any opportunity to slam you into their stereotype of a liberal: weak, bleeding heart, unpatriotic, uninformed, elitist, wants free stuff.
  • Rather than arguing or negating , ask questions. When a person is unclear on the stand s/he is taking, trying to justify an unjustifiable stand can become clear without you saying anything. Frames trump facts, so if the conservative in question accepts your frame, the rest of the conversation is just common sense within that frame.
  • Never repeat their frames. If someone says “Liberals are just lazy and want free stuff,” do not repeat their verbiage. Say something like, “I have a job. I’ve worked all my life and paid taxes.”
  • Be informed. If you get into a conversation on a topic in which you are poorly informed, there’s no winning it. Choose your battles and engage only in the ones you can win.
  • Think and talk at the level of values. Point out how your values support their values. We all want freedom, clean air and water, forests, lakes and rivers. Many conservatives, for instance, are hunters and fishermen. They don’t want our national parks turned into oil wells and mines any more than you do.

This blog piece only skims the surface of “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” I hope I have presented a few of Lakoff’s ideas accurately, but please read the book to gain a deeper understanding of how to win this cultural war that we didn’t ask for, but we’re fighting  anyway.

If you thought this piece had information of value to others, please feel free to share it in any way you please. Good luck in the days and maybe weeks or years to come; I believe that traditional liberal American values will win in the end. I have to.

P.S. Obscene, angry comments will be deleted without reply. Respectful comments or questions will be answered.

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For the next three weeks, I will be traveling in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, researching my next book, the third in the trilogy starting with “The Obsidian Mirror.” The second book, “Fire in the Ocean,” which takes place primarily on Moloka ‘i, HI, is due out later this year from Diversion Books. I won’t be sipping margaritas on the beach at Cancun, but I will be blogging about the trip daily (or almost daily), starting on Saturday. I hope you enjoy!