Freedom. Defined by Cash Back Rewards.

My 16-year-old daughter Skye got a credit card application in the mail yesterday. I guess I should be glad that we still get them. If we didn’t, that would be a strong sign that we’re broke.

Anyway, the envelope for this credit card application said: “FREEDOM. Defined By Cash Back Rewards.”

One could say that those six crass words, directed to a 16-year-old, sum up exactly what has gone wrong with America.

Honestly, I have no idea how “freedom” could be depicted by, associated with, or derived from – much less “Defined By” – cash-back rewards. Is that what the Revolutionary War was all about? Cash-back rewards?

Don’t get me wrong; I like cash-back rewards almost as much as I like cash. But they don’t have anything to do with freedom.

A great deal of advertising, just like a great deal of political discourse, reads like assault and battery on the English language. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just read Karl Rove’s playbook, “Words That Work,” by Frank Luntz. Or Newt Gingrich’s “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Or George Orwell’s “1984.” (Note to right wing: “1984” was not intended as a how-to book.)

And one of the all-time favorite tricks of the tricksters is their corruption and debasement of the word “freedom.”

After all, who can forget the twisted phrase, “they hate us because we are free”?

When a politician speaks about “freedom,” it’s usually meant to deflect your attention away from the gross disparities between the rich and poor. To paraphrase Anatole France, the rich and the poor are both free to lose their homes, and sleep in their cars.

But there was one American leader who knew what freedom really means: Franklin Roosevelt. He recognized that the term “freedom” includes freedom from certain things: freedom from poverty, freedom from ignorance, freedom from discrimination, freedom from disease, freedom from war. Listen to what FDR said in his ninth State of the Union address, after he was elected to an unprecedented third term:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."

It still is – 70 years later, in our time and in our generation.

My conception of freedom is that you can be all you can be, unchained by mass unemployment, bigotry, poor health and poverty. And it sure is different from Rick Perry’s, or Michele Bachmann’s, or Eric Cantor’s, or Sarah Palin’s. Janis Joplin summed up their kind of freedom this way:

"Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose."


Alan Grayson

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