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Gary Horton: Tea Partiers, freedom isn’t actually free

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: April 14, 2009 8:27 p.m.
Updated: April 15, 2009 4:30 a.m.
Immediately after the launch of George W. Bush’s Iraq War II, war boosting bumper stickers appeared on cars like so many Lakers Flags during NBA playoff season.

“Freedom Isn’t Free,” these bumper stickers shouted out. In most cases their owners meant to decree that freedom isn’t earned without war and bloodshed. I bumped into another of these stickers the other day, but at the current moment in our political discourse, the message, “Freedom Isn’t Free” presents an unintended lesson far beyond its original intent.

You see, today local republicans are throwing a “Tea Party” demonstrating against “high taxes.” Just four days after our heroic Navy rescued a heroic American captain, these Tea Partiers will wave their signs and chant slogans, implying that while it’s OK for others to sacrifice, they themselves aren’t particularly keen on paying the civilian cost of freedom.

Many of these partiers are those who thought themselves patriots, when years back they teary-eyed applied their “Freedom Isn’t Free” bumper stickers. In their peel and stick zeal, they thought they’d hit the mark, but overlooked that more truthful part ... “All for freedom
must also pay, in ordinary, daily ways.”

Americans are forever indebted to soldiers and servants paying freedom’s greatest price. However, bumper sticker essays restricting freedom’s cost to war is much too easy an out for armchair patriots happy with paying for stickers and signs but unwilling to buck up for much more than that.

In truth, freedom’s price is dear indeed, and its high cost paid by ordinary American civilians in ordinary ways every day. Civilians are patriots too, when they sacrifice and pay their personal share of freedom’s cost.

Last week, I spoke with an enthusiastic Republican booster-type. Bewildered by current republican sackcloth-in-ashes hand wringing over President Obama’s work to right the economy, I asked this man a straight up question:

“After eight years of having your chance, what is it that you actually want? How do you want America to look?”

“We just want to be left alone,” he responded. “We don’t want government in our lives, in our guns, or in our healthcare. And we really don’t want government taking our money. Just leave us alone.”

Unlike heroic Navy Seals, or thousands sacrificed in battles untold, my lunch buddy wants the freedom’s sweet fruits of security, without paying his part of the tab.

The bumper sticker is profoundly correct. “Freedom Isn’t Free.” It costs even more than soldiers’ lives that too many mindlessly write off as a sort of national freedom “payment in full.” Freedom’s price falls on civilian shoulders, too.

So I asked the man, “Do you want your property protected from gangs or drug-fueled criminals or hyped-up personal injury attorneys?

“How about freedom from intrusion or guilt of the wretchedly poor, impoverished by illiteracy or mental illness and sick from infectious disease?

“Freedom from invading armies, or freedom from piracy while on your cruises?

“Freedom to conduct business in a legal and orderly environment? Freedom to safely live and worship and speak as you choose?”

My Republican buddy assured me he treasured all these freedoms and more.

“Freedom,” I schooled him, “isn’t passive, and it doesn’t come without cost. While ‘being left alone’ to anarchy might be cheap, freedoms of liberty and justice for all require a lot of work in a modern society. And that burden and price must be paid by all.

“For property rights, you’ll need County Recorders and clerks, judges and juries, record keepers and sheriffs, courthouses and a full and functioning legal system. For freedom from crime, you’ll need the DEA, peace officers and a functioning corrections system. For freedom from poverty and ignorance and violence, you’ll need teachers and schools, professors and universities, caseworkers and adoption agencies. And the list goes on…”

America is no longer the “Little House on the Prairie.” We live in a big, complex, fast-moving world. Freedom and liberty don’t come cheap and easy.

We may wish to be “left alone.” We may wish to run and hide from freedom’s cost. But to enjoy generous liberty and freedom, America requires the structures of common civil community that makes it all possible. Our civilian burden is to buck up and pay our fair share.

Or, we can disgracefully hide from the bill we, ourselves incurred.

Today, local Republicans will stage their Tax Revolt Tea Party. They were a happier bunch back when President Bush hid the true cost of freedom. They were happier not to see caskets returning from Iraq. They were happier with tax breaks forestalling their civilian obligation for the war. They were happy handing a $1.3 trillion deficit to their kids.

But now, President Obama tells them the party’s over; that its time to pay freedom’s overdue bill. Now, we see the cost of the caskets coming home. Now, we’ll pay the deficits left behind by profligate politicians. Now, we’ll have to fix our broken economy.

Real patriots accept their fair share to maintain the free society we crave. But rejected Republicans party on for more free lunches, for more deferrals. They’ll pay for placards and bumper stickers, but when freedom’s price comes due they’d rather pass, abandoning soldiers, grandkids and Liberty herself.

Tea Partiers want freedom on the cheap. But freedom isn’t cheap — or free. Freedom’s true price is bearing the real and actual cost of diligent protection and promotion of our common good.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. “Full Speed to Port” appears Wednesdays in The Signal. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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