The House Serfdom Caucus
The House Freedom Caucus of the U.S. Congress has built a reputation for bullheaded pursuit of far-right policy, but not for pursuit of freedom, as its name would indicate. It has pushed federal government shutdown, caused the speaker of the House to quit, and scuttled the Republican bill to cut health care for not cutting enough. But, measured against the four freedoms once set down by President Franklin Roosevelt, the caucus seems more in pursuit of serfdom than freedom.
In his "Four Freedoms" speech, given eleven months before the nation's entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt set down a standard of freedom:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.
Let's see how the caucus measures up to those four essential human freedoms.
Freedom of Speech
Today, the internet is the biggest public forum. So, the freedom of speech in large part rests on a free internet. And the principle of net neutrality secures that free internet. Net neutrality means that your internet service provider (ISP) does not get to interfere with or control what you do on the internet.
But Congressional Republicans, with the help of members of the caucus, keep introducing bills to kill net neutrality. Those bills would strip the FCC of its authority to classify ISP's as communications services. That would free the ISP's to speed or slow, or block, certain internet requests of their choosing. Also, in December 2016, with Donald Trump waiting to take office, caucus chair Mark Meadows(R-NC) sent him, under the caucus banner, a list of more than 200 rules to revoke. Net neutrality was among those list items. Since then, the new Republican chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai, marches down the rule-making road towards killing net neutrality.
In another blow to a free internet, the Republican Party, helped by a 26-5 vote of the caucus, canceled an internet privacy rule. Free of that rule, an ISP can now, without consent, gather and sell a person's information, such as web browsing history.
So, the caucus favors the ISP's freedom, not backed by any right, to deny the individual's freedom, and rights, to privacy, and to speak and hear free of ISP interference.
Freedom to Worship
Republicans have twisted the freedom to worship into a freedom to discriminate and tread on the rights of others. For example, a recent Trump administration rule lets any employer claim a religious exemption from the law that requires contraception coverage in the insurance plan the employer provides. Caucus founder and former chair Jim Jordan called that rule "a significant, concrete victory for people of faith." He wrote, "Today’s decision protects their First Amendment rights to freely exercise their religious beliefs and conscience rights."
So, Jordan favors the freedom of certain employers, under the guise of religious rights, to tread on the freedom, and right, of the individual to equal protection of the laws -- in this case an equal standard of health care coverage.
Freedom from Want
In 1944, Roosevelt said:
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
A United Way study of some 15 states shows that many households cannot afford basic necessities, even though most are working. The numbers for Ohio are typical. Among Ohio households, 40% cannot afford basic necessities. That 40% breaks down to 14% below the official poverty level, and 26% working at low wages above poverty level.
A direct answer to that problem is to have more and better-paying jobs. And a direct way to bring that is through a national infrastructure program and a living wage standard. But the caucus's answer is to cut the social safety net that helps many of those low income households. In a recent instance, Caucus members joined in passing the Republican budget resolution, which pulls a big reverse Robin Hood. Most of its $1.5T in tax cuts over ten years would go to the uppermost 1% in income, while most of its $1.8T in benefit cuts would fall on the lowermost 40% or so in income. Only two caucus members voted against this resolution, but only because it would increase the deficit now, and put off the spending cuts to later.
So, the caucus strives for policies that increase poverty and dependence on employers that don't pay a living wage, and thus impair the freedom of low-income individuals.
Freedom from Fear
Donald Trump largely leads by fear and false claim. He kicked off his presidential campaign with a baseless claim that Mexico willfully sends criminals over the border. Then, as president, he ordered stepped-up deportations, which have snared many otherwise law-abiding immigrants, ripped apart families, and spread fear in immigrant communities. And Trump presses on to build his thousand mile Mexican border wall, which, among other problems, would stand as a monument to fear. Furthermore, in speech, tweet and appointment, Trump has given cheer to white supremacists, known and unknown. And those racists have come out to do acts of hate, from verbal insult to murder, and so inject more fear into society. And as for civilization's two great fearsome threats, nuclear war and climate change, Trump has only amped up the fear. For one, he has given us over-the-top saber rattling, and for the other, ignorance and withdrawal.
I do not find any case of the caucus speaking a word against Trump's agenda of fear. But I do find some words in favor of it. For instance, Jordan called the deportations and wall "the first step toward securing our country from illegal immigration." And in July, caucus chairman Mark Meadows threatened an old caucus trick. He said that the caucus would demand the border wall to the point of blocking the budget and shutting down the government. He said the wall was needed for two reasons: for "national security," and to keep Trump's promise to build it. As for climate change, item number 192 on the caucus's rules-to-revoke list reads "Cancel U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreement on Greenhouse Gas Emissions."
In these examples for each of the four basic freedoms, the so-called House Freedom Caucus runs towards serfdom, not individual freedom. In that light, a more fitting name would be the "House Serfdom Caucus."
Image Credit: The Paragraph (CC BY-SA 3.0); TJakobs of German Wikpedia
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