That other “freedom,” the idea Bush is promulgating and which is held by ordinary Americans “is largely a personal matter having to do with relations with others and success in the world,” the professor tells us. It means, he says, “doing what one wants and getting one’s way.” This is the nineteenth century conception of freedom, he goes on, never adequately realized and now passe, though still clung to by the great American unwashed, even while they continue to pay lip service to the more exalted twentieth century idea of freedom as embodied in the progressive institutions of the state.
“The genius of President Bush,” notes the professor, “is that he has acquired an exquisite grasp of this . . . and he can play both versions . . . to his advantage.” But the rest of the world, Professor Patterson adds, is unable to grasp how Bush subtly and cynically dances about between these two notions of freedom. The world, the professor assures us, sees Bush’s words “merely as hypocrisy.”
So the professor puts it all in perspective for New York Times readers and the rest of us poor benighted souls. Our president is hopelessly mired in an outdated notion of freedom, he tells us, but has “genius” enough (a big step up from the Bush-is-a-jerk days!) to use the vagueness of the word “freedom” to confuse us ordinary Americans as he moves to undermine the real freedoms we treasure as embodied in our “civil liberties, political participation and social justice.”
Now, that’s certainly how it’s being argued by the left these days and Professor Patterson is voicing that viewpoint. But is it correct? Are there really two notions of freedom at work here, and is Bush dancing around between them to confuse us and the rest of the world?
Freedom may have many meanings, but in a political context, in our American tradition, it means and has always meant the ability to choose our leaders through elections, to express our views and to hang onto our property, all without undue government interference. And it means having the governmental institutions in place to assure us these rights. So is Bush offering an idea that differs from this, as the professor wants to suggest? Has Bush advocated shutting down the Constitution or disregarding the legal rulings of American courts (certain leftist ravings to the contrary)? Has he attempted to suppress opposing opinions (including the Left’s near hysterical tirades)? Has Professor Patterson, himself, been prevented from publishing his views?
In Iraq, has Bush advocated against elections or is his administration among the foremost proponents of these? And have we not recently seen the fruit of this remarkable effort as the courageous people of Iraq voted, some 8 million strong, to defy terrorist threats and seize a new day for themselves and their children? Hasn’t Bush been in the forefront of supporting the development of an Iraqi constitution to institutionalize democratic processes such as we enjoy, and to protect the rights of citizens, including members of minorities? Where, then, is this alleged difference the professor purports to see, a Bushian archaic notion of freedom which supposedly diverges from some accepted twentieth (and now twenty-first) century norm?
Is it enough for the professor to assert that such a difference exists for it to be the case? Is it enough for him to suggest that Bush has no interest in the institutions we have developed to safeguard democracy, and no real interest in the demands of social justice, even though the president has argued for, and implemented, the liberation of millions abroad, supported AIDS intervention in Africa (at great cost to our nation), and led the charge to help the tsunami victims around the Indian Ocean?