Op-ed: Making freedom count?

A volunteer handed me the circular “I VOTED” sticker as I walked out the door of my polling place. I smiled, thanked her, and flipped the disk between my fingers as I considered placing it on my T-shirt.

Walking back to the car, I gave a cursory glance to the secondary message of the badge. My demeanor waned. “I MADE FREEDOM COUNT,” said the disc in all caps along the top. “I MADE FREEDOM COUNT,” it reaffirmed along the bottom.

I repeated the phrase in my head as a question. Yes, I had voted, but did I really “make freedom count?”

Back in 2008 I was excited to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, but this time around it was more about voting against his opponent than for him. To be explicit, I do support the president’s domestic accomplishments, including progress in the areas of health care, marriage equality, women’s rights and education reform. In fact, I can only wish that he had pushed these reforms further. His handling of the financial situation seems to be working generally for the better, but at every turn he has been entirely too deferential to Wall Street for my liking.

This is where the Republicans come into the equation: Even though the president has made notable progress in those areas, it has been entirely overshadowed by the cloud of regressive initiatives that could be imagined during a Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan presidential term. Not only would Romney have a congressional majority in his back pocket, but when you factor in the possibility of Supreme Court appointments, a Romney proposition would have set back the clock decades on many of these issues to a time long before Obama was even on the political stage.

As commander-in-chief, President Obama’s policies on homeland security and foreign policy have been severely disappointing. While there is no doubt that his approach and tact are miles better than that of G.W. Bush, let’s not forget that this is also the president who authorized the indefinite detention of Americans and signed into law the “anti-occupy” bill, which restricts First Amendment right to protest. Meanwhile, overseas, Obama has expanded drone attacks on human targets to unprecedented levels. I have yet to find a convincing argument that articulates how any one of these policies works to foster democracy and goodwill. Instead, they seem as reactionary tactics that have the sole effect of restricting the rights of dissidents in the name of American “safety.”

Is this freedom or just thinly veiled cowardice? The most pointed statement that I heard from Romney during the entire campaign was “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” And he’s right; we really can’t kill our way out of this mess, so why did his budget propose huge increases in defense spending that the military didn’t even ask for?

Maybe there was a favorable third party candidate with whom I could have sided? Certainly, there were options, but were any of those candidates really able to participate in the discussion? No, not really—and the possibility of weakening the Obama vote just enough to give way to Romney’s victory was unthinkable. When the odds are this close, that gamble could turn sour mighty quick.

In the end these were our two options: polarized politicians and parties that have a stranglehold on the debate and election system—candidates that pose at opposite ends of the domestic spectrum while varying only in rhetoric on defense and corporate welfare.

When it comes to true liberty, the liberty embodied within the bill of rights, did America have any real choice? Did my vote “make freedom count”—as it were?

I drove home, walked inside and threw the sticker in the trash.

 This op-ed was originally published in The Crow’s Nest, USF St. Petersburg’s student-run newspaper on November 13, 2012.

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