Valuing individual choice over government regulation is at the heart of conservative Tea Party and libertarian movements. But author and legal scholar Kent Greenfield says both groups are championing a limited definition of freedom.
“The Tea Party and the libertarians in the Republican party are focused on freedom, but it’s a really weird kind of freedom,” Greenfield told ABC’s “Top Line” today. Greenfield is a law professor at Boston College and author of ‘The Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits.’
Evidence of such “weird” freedom was seen at the CNN and Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential debate in early September, when the audience cheered the idea of letting uninsured patients die.
The Tea Party and libertarians, said Greenfield, want “the freedom to do whatever you want to do, including walk beside someone who is in need and not call 911.” Absent from the presidential debates and discussions is freedom of another kind.
“What we need to talk about when we talk about freedom is not just the freedom to behave in certain ways, but the freedom from want and the freedom from fear, some of those old traditional values where we need more collective action to take advantage of,” said the Boston college law professor.
Forgoing health insurance, for example, may be an individual choice, but will likely negatively affect society down the road, said Greenfield.
“If you make a bad choice to eat Big Macs all the time and nothing else or to not buy health insurance, that ends up costing me,” said Greenfield. “We ought to be more attuned to shared responsibility rather than just individual choice all the time.”
Greenfield criticized Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s lack of sympathy for unemployed Americans. Earlier this month, Cain told protestors at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration to “blame yourself” for being unemployed.
“It’s not American to say that people who are in need should blame themselves,” said Greenfield. The law professor was quick to add that some unemployed individuals or people in need got into their situations because of bad choices.
“But most of the 14 million people who are unemployed in this country are not unemployed because of some bad choice they made,” said Greenfield. “They’re unemployed because of some derivative trader on Wall Street or some regulator in Washington and it’s going to take collective action to get them out of those situations, not just individual actions.
“So for Herman Cain and others, Ron Paul, to say, ‘Look pull yourself up by your own boot straps,’ in this economy is impossible. You can only pull yourself by your own bootstraps if you have boots.”
Greenfield said the Supreme Court should also view the Constitution as a protector of collective rights when reviewing President Obama’s individual mandate on health care.
“For the last 60 or 70 years, we’ve talked about collective protection, the need for the government to act in order to protect people,” said Greenfield, “I think we ought to think about the individual mandate as something that is consistent with personal responsibility.”
After all, free choice isn’t necessarily free of cost.
“Partly the mistake by the Libertarians is that we ought to be free to impose cost on others. If I don’t buy health insurance, I’m imposing cost on you because at some time, I’m going to end up in the emergency room or on a death bed or on a sick bed and you’re going to have to pay for me.”