Today I was watching an interview with Republican hopeful, Mitt Romney, on the Meet the Press podcast. A significant portion of the first half of the interview was dedicated to Romney discussing his religious faith. This is understandable to the degree that he could potentially be the first Mormon president of the U.S., and nevertheless, I was incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing. I kept thinking about how I would justify this type of “political” interview in Europe. In Europe, politicians would simply not be professing their faith to the electorate, and with the exception of “God Save the Queen” would not constantly be talking about “in God we trust” and their faith. Politicians do need to go to church or talk about God to win elections. Probably talking about religion would make them lose.
As a matter of fact, the U.S.’s fascination with religion is not only incredibly ironic, considering its birth as a land of religious freedom, but its politicians and voters’ insistance on using faith-based rationales for policies makes them more like Christian-style Shari’a-ists and sounding like the same “Islamofascists” that they are constantly waging war against.
In any event, Romney started off justifying a quote he had given in a recent speech about how freedom came from religion and religion from freedom. I am still not quite sure exactly what he meant, but theoretically it had something to do with the natural law that our forefathers set forth in the Declaration of Independence. According the Romney, the U.S.’s values flow from Judeo-Christian morality, without which there would be no freedom today. He did concede, though, that agnostics and atheists still had a place in society and add value of that freedom.
Then as he continued to explain his recent policy shifts (all towards the right), it was interesting to see just how he viewed the entire notion of freedom. People had the freedom to decide their faith and to describe their faith in a way that even insulted his own. Women should not have the freedom to have abortions, but unborn humans should have the freedom not to be aborted (try getting their votes, Mitt). Americans had the freedom to carry guns. This, of course, he nuanced. We should have the freedom to bear arms, as long as we use our guns for lawful purposes (I suppose that means killing animals and killing others in self-defense). The government also had the right to abort your life if you committed a serious enough crime. Finally, no one in the world should have the freedom to be within the U.S. borders without proper documentation. In other words, there is no freedom to be in the U.S.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not disagreeing per se with any of Mitt’s policies. But what I noticed was that the concept of freedom that we all hold so dear to us in the U.S. really does not mean what we think it means. And I am not proposing an anarchist state by any means; I simply think that we should call a spade a spade.
The idea of political freedom does not really mean that we have an inalienable right to the pursuit of hapiness or even to life. If that were the case, I don’t think that we’d have borders to keep others from trying to pursue happiness in our country. I am sure you all know that having the proper documentation is not easy, either in the U.S. or in Europe (and I can vouch for that). Freedom in American political life is really about procedural justice and how freedom is actually limited. The substantive laws tell us what we cannot do, and the procedural laws tell us that we must all be treated similarly in the limitation of those rights.
For example, in Romney’s America of freedom, you can have guns and be born, but you can’t learn about contraception or stop unwanted pregancies, the government can kill you, and you definitely cannot pursue happiness in the U.S. without having the right credentials.
The most absurd moment of the interview was when Romney was asked about how the Mormon church had not permitted racial equality until the late 1970s. Minutes before, Romney had explained how the Judeo-Christian moral faith had given Americans their freedom in 1776. Now he told, almost with tears in his eyes, the very touching story of how he cried when he heard the news (while driving in his car) that his faith had finally given full rights to black Africans and black Americans some 200 years late.
Maybe it’s time we start talking about how our policies can make our lives better — isn’t that what politicians are paid for — and not about how freedom can make our religion policy.