What Paul Ryan Doesn't Understand About Freedom

“Take Obamacare. We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. The Left thinks this is a good thing. They say, hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.“ – House Speaker Paul Ryan

America is in a fight over freedom — what it means and who it includes, and who we are as a nation.

But it’s an old fight. On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out his view in his famous Four Freedoms speech:

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all. The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living. [W]e look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way. The third is freedom from want. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments.

But then a different view began to be pushed into the mainstream — that freedom is all about individual choice within a free market unfettered by government’s rules and laws. As conservative economist Milton Friedman wrote, “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” I’m with FDR, and I’d add a few more:

  • Clean air and water that don’t poison us over time.

  • That no one can end up in poverty or on the streets because their job doesn’t pay enough to afford housing, food, or transportation 

  • That you can see a doctor and get the care you need anytime, in any situation and regardless of your income, status, or identity.

  • And that moms and dads don’t have to wonder and worry whether their African American sons will make it home alive each night.

Sure, we all have to be responsible citizens and do our part to stay healthy, work hard, and contribute to society. But real freedom comes from things we can’t do alone and that we must do together—like rules that keep our air and water clean, prevent the concentration of wealth and power, and ensure that everyone has an affordable place to live.

And only together can we make sure everyone has access to education and health care. These are things we all benefit from regardless of whether you use the specific service or asset or whether or not it impacts you directly. And these are things that make us a better nation.

I choose to still believe that’s who we are. It’s Paul Ryan who doesn’t get that.

As the year ends, take some time to think about freedom: how would you start your day if you were truly free? What does freedom look like in your neighborhood, town, or city? What about in America?