The world has changed - again. A year after the coup, another wave has begun to change America. As my colleague Joel Rubin tweeted this morning – “this is what an election looks like when the Russians aren’t involved.” After a year of Democrats being told that they have no message, and that they don’t know how to message, the Awakening manifested at the polls, and the Resistance swamped the gerrymandered Republican Virginia House of Delegates to a virtual tie. People were angry. After a year of deplorable, fascist rhetoric from the top, and a gutless, treasonous Republican-led Congress trying to strip people of their health care, their money, their safety, and their dignity, we saw people of color standing in the cold rain, women reconsidering their pride in themselves and their families, and an overwhelming majority shouting their hope in a diverse nation that was a massive slap at white supremacists. This Election Day was 88 days since the Battle of Charlottesville. How, now, do we frame a vision for the party and the country beyond crushing fascism and the global kleptocracy? After last night, we see that a positive message is not a necessity to win at the polls; it is a necessity to give people hope for the future, for themselves and their children. I offer an updated version of the vision of the greatest Democratic president’s words, three-quarters of a century after its introduction. In the midst of global war, when the future of the world was hanging in the balance, those words energized a population isolated but anxious about the Nazi-Soviet threat, and soon to be drawn into that world war.
This is my slightly amended version of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms:
· Freedom of speech
· Freedom of full human expression
· Freedom from want
· Freedom from fear
· Freedom to live on a healthy planet
These five principles cover a Democratic agenda from west coast to east, and the heartland in between:
· In a world of increasing polarization, and a generation rising that doesn’t fully believe in democracy, it is imperative to elevate the First Amendment principle of freedom of speech to the top of the list. Without it, fascism and, ultimately, totalitarianism, will take over the country. This problem exists on the far left as it does on the right, and while our divisions may be deep, it is all the more important that people be free to speak and, hopefully, converse. This does not mean one can shout fire in a crowded theater, but short of incitement to violence, and assembly with weapons, even the most obnoxious and hateful speech must be tolerated.
· President Roosevelt’s second principle was freedom of religion, which today should be expanded to include freedom from religion, and the freedom to not practice any religion or have any sectarian religious values imposed on oneself. Yet even freedom of religion is insufficient; freedom of expression must be expanded to include the freedom to be fully human, fully oneself, and that encompasses attributes of sex (which includes gender identity and sexual orientation), gender, ethnicity, nationality, race, creed, and genetic, physical and mental status.
· Freedom from want was FDR’s boldest new principle, and the one we are still farthest from fulfilling. In those waning days of the Great Depression, too many people still lacked access to basic food and housing stocks, as well as the jobs necessary to provide for themselves and their families. Today we must add access to basic quality health care to the list, and the only sane way to do that in a modern post-industrial economy is through an expansion of Medicare to provide basic medical services for all.
· Freedom from fear was achieved by victory in 1945, though the threat of nuclear annihilation remained until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today we face a resurgent Russia, seeking to re-establish its empire by declaring cyberwar on us and our European allies, as well as infiltrating and corrupting the Republican party to its highest levels. We have greater reason to fear nascent fascism with its white, ethno-nationalist, theocratic rhetoric and power grab, than at any time in this nation’s history, with the possible exception of the era surrounding the War to End Slavery. Special Counsel Mueller is our most important bulwark against the fear that pervades all those true patriots who love freedom, democracy, equality, and revere the Constitution. Also, since the War to End Slavery did not succeed in ending racism, we must redouble our efforts
· Finally, the freedom that overwhelms all the others - the freedom to exist on a livable planet, with warming under control and clean air and water. This was not an issue for the Roosevelt administration, as climate science was in its infancy and the damage done by modern industry was just beginning to accelerate. But a warming planet threatens us all through its multiple ramifications, and while it is the enormity of the problem that paralyzes many Americans, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to engage with the world to mitigate the worst of the damage and prevent future deterioration.
If Democrats take these five principles and tailor them to their unique, particular campaigns, not only will they be able to ride the anti-trump wave, they will inspire a new generation towards public service and an understanding that we’re all in this together. Government is neither the problem nor the solution; it is the means by which we act together, leverage our unique skills and abilities, and take care of those unable to care for themselves. Government at its best magnifies the national will and provides inspiration to people to transmute their hope into reality.