Is America still a free country? Good question

As the country celebrates another Independence Day weekend, it’s worth stepping back from our hot political debates to ask a question: How free is America?

Since last July 4, the country has seen the changing of the guard in the White House — with accompanying changes in policies on everything from war to the environment to health care to the economy. Those changes have sparked cries of tyranny from the right and angry rebuttals from the left.

So how free is America? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, consider the question.


When the Founding Fathers declared America’s independence more than 230 years ago, they couldn’t have imagined some of the events this country has witnessed in the last year or so: A black man elected president. A woman nominated for vice president, and another nearly claim her party’s nomination for the top spot. In a few states, gay men and women have even been allowed to marry each other.

More Americans than ever can be confident of their ability to participate fully in the political process or create the family of their choosing — and if those aren’t signs that freedom is on the rise, well, what is? But the job is not complete. Gay Americans are still largely second-class citizens, prohibited in most places from marrying their partners. They’re still not allowed to serve openly in the military.

Meanwhile, America’s new president — while he has committed the welcome act of ending torture — has put himself on the side of warrantless wiretapping and the indefinite detention of terror suspects who can’t be convicted in a court of law. Lovers of liberty are rightly troubled by these developments.

What we have learned — again — is that freedom belongs to no particular political party. That it demands constant vigilance. And that it still stirs the American soul.

The battles that consume so much of our political life very often balance someone’s notion of freedom against somebody else’s desire to fix a problem. That’s not a bad thing. As long as we are battling for freedom — against its limitations and for its expansion — then we still have a large measure of it. That is something for which Americans can still be grateful.


It’s fair to say most Americans do not worry much about their liberty. We take for granted that the United States is, and always will be, the freest country in the world. Tyranny is what you find in places like North Korea, China, Burma, Iran or Nazi Germany. America doesn’t even come close.

Truth is, despotism comes in many shades and hues, not just the red and black of totalitarian states past and present. This America’s founders understood well in 1776, when they pledged their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" to throw off the yoke of King George III. It’s hard to know these days just what makes for a "long train of abuses and usurpations," as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, but no matter how well intended, government always stifles freedom. Always.

"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty," Patrick Henry said. "Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel." There can be no doubt that the jewel has been badly tarnished over the decades by incessant government expansion into almost every facet of the private sphere. There is almost nothing that the federal government doesn’t touch, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the cars we drive and the very air we breathe. Liberty dies by a thousand cuts, or 100,000 regulations.

But aren’t we better off? Don’t we live longer lives? Aren’t we safer? Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted observation about those who would trade "essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" never gets old. We’re only as free as we insist, and not nearly as free or as independent as we ought to be.

(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis podcast at


  1. ClassicLiberal

    A Birthday Party and a Good Wake look and feel alot alike. Both celebrate the life of the honoree. This 4th of July will be no different as the parties will abound, the fireworks will shower, and the spirits will flow. God Bless America will be played and sung in thousands of quarters, as will The Stars and Stripes Forever.

    This begs the question, though, will this be another in the succession of more than 2 centuries of Independence Day celebrations, or is this the first birthday of official tyranny and oppression in our great land?

    Truly, the fruits of freedom are spread more widely amongst our citizens than at any other time in history, but it hasn’t just happened in the last 6 months. Our story is generations old. America has been blessed not only with incomparable natural bounty from which to mold this national success; it has also been personified by legions of hardworking men and women who, by their toil, sweat, and sacrifice have wrought those widespread fruits. Ours is a story of rugged individualism writ large.

    Freedom and liberty are best embodied in that rugged individualism, as those who live so are the movers and shapers who have committed themselves to the hard work and personal responsibility that concepts such as freedom and liberty demand. They are the beacons of how to excel at wringing the most from life, the models of how to accept the legacy of opportunity that has been passed from generations gone by. Those are the ones who, should this be another in a long line of birthdays, will prevail over the unjust tyranny – the social assault on freedom and liberty – that has been thrust upon us in this new millenium.

    We find ourselves under seige from the very government we have established “for the common good”. It has lost its way, it has enslaved us for its own advancement, it has moved to fortify itself against our cries for transparency and legitimacy, it has usurped our good name and used it against many other nations in this world, and it has become the type of oppressor that our forefathers fought and died against so that we could be free.

    It now stands to bankrupt us – financially, socially, spiritually, ethically – in the name of saving our banks, in the name of public welfare, in the name of managing the planet, in the name of world harmony, in the name of all things un-American. There is no place for rugged individualism and the fruits that will bring. There is almost NO freedom and liberty.

    Happy Birthday America or Rest in Peace.

  2. Epictetus

    Whew! My first impulse was to refer to these cranky ditherings as the whining of pussies, but out of respect for same I will refer of them as the bleating of sheep.

    You people clearly have no idea what “enslavement” means. How dare you demean that concept by comparing it to your status in life.

    I strongly suspect that when you got up this morning you were not enshackled, were not beaten to start the day, and had some decent food to eat. Then you had numerous choices of what news sources to attend to (from newspaper to TV to radio to “Ethernets”)–none of which is controlled by any government. Let me repeat that. Not only do you have access to SOME sources of non-governmental and anti-governmental news, you had access to an INFINITE variety of non-governmental news sources…most of which freely partake of the freedom to criticize whatever political individuals or organs of governance that they choose. And you couldn’t find an actual government owned newspaper or TV station if you tried.

    You were able to walk out onto the street if you chose to, not subject to any curfew or partisan interdict, and head off in any direction you chose…in your private auto if you chose.

    Nobody told you where to go to work, or if you had to go to work at all. Slightly different for slaves.

    You then had the liberty to open your bleating yaws and bleat out whatever blather you wished. No consequences. None. Tough slavery!

    Get back to me when you have something to complain about that is legitimately a government imposition.

    Please try to have a thankful Independence Day, thankful for the conditions you actually have, as opposed to those you fantasize about.


  3. almandine

    Yeah… free to watch TV, go to the movie of my choice, walk down the street, eat a hot dog… BFD.

    The Ruskies could do that when Stalin was in power. Hell, Kim Jong Il will invite you over to watch his collection of western DVDs.

    Just don’t try to think or talk outside the politically correct realm. And DON’T try to keep any of that “extra” money you’ve made above your current tax load. Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act, the new Hate Speech Act to be signed this week… and don’t even talk about MSM news. What a bunch of crap. 3,297 hours of the Michael Jackson soap opera while North Korea is launching missles. Look over here – look over here !!! Uh, the ball is in the other hand.

    Wake up there big boy… smell the coffee. You’re freedoms are next to long gone. Collectivism IS slavery.

  4. griff

    I would urge all those that voted for an R or a D in this past election to stay home this weekend and suck your thumbs…You’ve got no right celebrating something you don’t even believe in or can’t comprehend.

    You dishonor the meaning of this holiday and the memories of those that risked life and limb to deliver this country from tyranny – only to come full circle again.

    This is a day for patriots, not partisans. This is a day to celebrate the advancement of ideals that are nothing more than a punchline these days. This is a day to celebrate the animated contest of freedom, not the lifeless submission to a corrupted Political Class.

  5. JerryG


    I would urge all those that voted for an R or a D in this past election to stay home this weekend and suck your thumbs…You’ve got no right celebrating something you don’t even believe in or can’t comprehend.

    You dishonor the meaning of this holiday and the memories of those that risked life and limb to deliver this country from tyranny – only to come full circle again.


    F*CK you griff, you pontificating SOB!

  6. JerryG

    Trust me on this one. Hypothetically speaking, if we were to replace the 3 co-equal branches of government that are in power today (or for that matter the last 30 to 40 years) with the original federalists or republicans who ran this nation for the first 30 years or so our “freedoms” would look nothing like today!

    What the authors of this article fail to point out is that the evolution of free market capitalism and its relationship to “freedom”, corporately speaking as well, have made it necessary for the government to be involved in our food, auto safety, equality…

  7. ekaton

    “What the authors of this article fail to point out is that the evolution of free market capitalism and its relationship to “freedom”, corporately speaking as well, have made it necessary for the government to be involved in our food, auto safety, equality…”

    Can you say the same, that it has been “made necessary” for the government to be supporting dictators “friendly” to the U.S. government, for constantly starting and continuing unnecessary and needless wars like Korea and Vietnam, including fomenting the civil war now raging in Pakistan, for borrowing trillions of dollars from Communist Red China to support these wars and occupations, putting every man, woman and child in the U.S. into debt to the tune of $37,000, with no end in sight to the continued borrowing, for gutting the constitution (habeas corpus, military commissions act, Patriot Acts I and II, NSA spying on everyone at all times, for stealing from the taxpayers to bail out fraudulent “financial institutions”… shall I go on?

    Has all of this been necessary as a result of the ‘evolution of free market capitalism and its relationship to “freedom”,’? Because if it has, then maybe its time for a change from “free market capitalism”.

    I don’t know. Just wondering. Just asking. Maybe I missed your point totally.

    Kent Shaw

  8. DejaVuAllOver

    And what’s your point Mr. Jerry, genius? That the original American Nazis, Hamilton and his merry band of do-nothing corporate con artists aka the Federalists knew what “freedom” meant? (except for the freedom to rape and pillage, that is…) Hamilton was the source of so many of our ills, from Israel to working-class slavery, that you don’t have any right to talk about the meaning of freedom. If I’ve even comprehended the meaning of your nearly incomprehensible post, that is. Aaron Burr was a hero.

  9. oceanika

    How is such animosity relevant to the topic? Happy Independence Day, America!

    What is the definition of freedom? Epictetus was the only one who even attempted to address it, and I think he nailed it. Now, those who think regulating corporations strips America of its freedom should consider Jerry G’s statement,

    “…the evolution of free market capitalism and its relationship to ‘freedom’, corporately speaking as well, have made it necessary for the government to be involved in our food, auto safety, equality…”

    The history of un-restrained corporate greed is the history of the erosion of individual freedoms. Once the “haves” got theirs they locked the door behind them. Start a “soda pop” company and see how many markets will carry your brand – once the big guys explain things to the market owners. Invent a car that gets 80 mpg and see what road blocks are thrown up by the established makers. Design a new windshield wiper only to have a big car company rip off your idea and make you spend a million dollars in legal expenses to get your due. “Free market” is a myth.

    Food and drug companies don’t sell healthy, safe and effective products because they love America. They are regulated because they have shown how they would act if they weren’t regulated.

    Ekaton asks: “Can you say the same, that it has been “made necessary [for government to be involved]…” Our political policies have long been tailored to suit corporate interests. From our choice of allies, to our wars, to where the next freeway off-ramp will be built have been for the benefit of the big businesses. Chiquita Banana gets the US to say who can sell bananas to England. The Saudi ruling class is our special ally because the oil companies want it. We went to war in Viet Nam and Iraq for the sake of oil. Where is one’s freedom to live in peace when a large real estate developer wants to take your home to build a shopping mall? Eminent domain can be bought for the price of a politician’s fund raising dinner. Do we even need to mention how financial institutions get our tax dollars when they f**k up? Ekaton, I’m just as indignant as you, but I think politicians are driven by corporate interests.

    Once again, Happy Independence Day America, a country where patriotism is not the sole property of the armed forces, R’s or D’s or L’s or whatever, it’s a country where we can celebrate this great work-in-progress; a place where no one can keep you from celebrating even if some self-righteous curmudgeon tells you you can’t — you see, that’s one more freedom we have.

  10. history guy

    Just try not cooperating with any of the uniformed representatives of our government. Between the war on drugs and the war on terror, you have few rights left.
    Ask a policeman why and you’ll end up tazed or worse. If someone kicks in your door in the middle of the night, hold on to your dog (or it will be shot) and lie on the floor in a submissive posture. Don’t ask why or who they are or they may beat you and say you resisted arrest.

  11. oceanika

    You’re right, there is a bunch of foolishness in the media (“main stream” and “liberal” don’t actually exist) and this week much of it is focused on the predictable death of an emotionally stunted pop singer. And, I agree that the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act (that were imposed by the recent Republican administration and Republican dominated congress) should be abolished ASAP. In fact, I am little concerned why that it hasn’t been done already.

    I find so-called politically correct speech tedious and sometimes absurd, no matter which side of the political spectrum defines it. I also find incivility, insult and incitement-to-violence to be offensive and they have no place in intelligent conversation or debate. Free speech is not license; slander, libel and such things as yelling “Fire” in a movie theater or making bomb threats (to mention a few) have been affirmed to be illegal and no intelligent person would consider that to be the death of free speech. However, I was not aware that my freedom to be politically incorrect had taken away from me – by law!

    Now, could you be a little more specific about those freedoms which are “next to long gone?” While you are at it: what is this “Collectivism” of which you speak, and how does it apply to us? Thanks, in advance, for your cool and reasoned reply.

  12. almandine

    Cool and reasoned….

    not a problem. But then again, would you extend solid consideration?

    The hate speech thing is a done deal. The law against thinking or saying anything that could be construed as anathema will be passed this week. Google it, but don’t say it out loud. DO NOT think or say anything about protected classes – especially if you’re on the radio.

    Beyond that, let’s look at what’s been done to your money. Big banks have been bailed out… you pay. Do you believe Goldman Sachs should get your livelihood? Are you ready to be in debt, say, $50K to make sure they stay in business? Is there any reason to believe they’re above board? Says who? It doesn’t matter… already a done deal. Thank your govt.

    Car companies have been bought (TAKEN OVER) by the govt. Got a problem with that? How about all those little old grannies that put their retirement money into GM stock, but now that the US owns it, they have lost it all – only to give $500B to UAW execs every year in exchange? Got a problem with that? Tough, gotta buy those union votes.

    And then the biggie. The Fed and its banks. Do you even have a clue what the printing of $12T has done to the value of your hard earned cash? Can you say worthless? Did you get to say whether or not they could devalue your money – steal your wherewithall – indenture your efforts? Inflation means what? Is that a tax you can afford?

    Now those are just a couple of the NEW realities you get to endure. Collectivism? Govt Healthcare? Govt corporate ownership? Govt social control? Govt redistribution of all our resources? Govt decisions about what ALL of us should do and be? MANDATORY volunteerism?

    Now, the biggest LIBERTY I cn think of is to be secure in ones ownership of his/her property. As is clear, THAT is next to long gone. Whether by outright theft or economic subversion, YOU’VE been had. Ho hum, take in a movie, I’m sure you’ll feel better soon. I WON’T cause I KNOW BETTER.