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Freedom given great PR, several setbacks

By Hannah Selinger | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

On Inauguration Day, I find myself perched beside the radio because I simply cannot bear to watch the spectacle on television and—yet—cannot bear to miss it entirely. I am processing three things: a column by Maureen Dowd, a column by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, and a clip I heard on National Public Radio from one of the President’s publicists.


The publicist had been talking about the inaugural speech, which, he said, would focus on the idea that, “peace is advanced by securing freedom.” It is January 20, and the first democratic Iraqi elections are now ten days away and, from this vantage point, it looks like we’ve done very little in the way of securing freedom. When those democratic citizens stand in line to vote for the first time, after all, they will know nothing about the candidates and nothing about the process; there has been no campaigning; there will be, it seems, no mercy from the insurgents in the coming weeks.

“Our 22 months at war,” Maureen Dowd wrote, “Have not added up to that one [Baghdad] highway’s being secured.”

Proof, then, that we have not secured Iraqi freedom. Need more proof? The American death toll continues to rise daily. This nation is neither peaceful, nor free.

“When you invade a country,” Dowd continued, “You should expect an insurgency. Or, as Fibonacci might have calculated it, if you kill one jihadist, two more arrive to take his place; if you kill three, five more pop up; if you get five, eight more appear, and so on.”

And it does go on and on, but perhaps freedom begins at home. Perhaps that was what the publicist was referring to, that we should be securing our own peace as a country by securing our own individual freedoms. Have we, then, in the past four years, advanced peace and freedom in our own fine nation? No. We have not.

Nine months ago, I joined nearly a million other Americans—compared with the 500,000 ticketed guests attending the inauguration—to protest the Bush Administration’s curtailment of reproductive rights. We were marching for reproductive freedom, freedom that has been routinely slashed back by legislation supported by the President, by policies driven by the President. We were marching because we are a peaceful people, but we cannot continue to go peacefully into that good night if it means forsaking our Constitutionally protected rights.

But that must not have been what the President’s publicist meant by “freedom.”

We could talk, too, about gay marriage, about the freedom to marry whomever we choose, and about how our President believes it is his right to inform us of ‘freedom’s’ terms. We will cross oceans to protect the so-called freedoms of other populations, but we refuse to do so on this side of the Atlantic.

On Inauguration Day, before I succumb to the pomp and circumstance of a ritual that I feel should have been canceled or, at best, toned down in this year of war and natural disaster, I think about Daniel Gilbert, that Harvard professor who has a nice above-the-fold article in the New York Times on the nature of happiness. Even those of us who have been paying attention, he argues, have not been paying attention.

“Things do seem to turn out for the best,” Gilbert wrote, “But studies suggest that this has less to do with the way things turn out than with our natural tendency to seek, notice, remember, generate, and uncritically accept information that makes us happy.”

What does this mean? Well, it means that even those of us who find ourselves in direct opposition to the current administration and everything it stands for are likely to forget our hatred in the interest of making ourselves happy. The election is now a part of our distant past, the next four years an intangible period of time.

So on Inauguration Day, do we start over? Do Democrats give up the fight and smile, because it’s easier than caring about what happens to the world?

The simple answer, of course, is no. Complacency, especially in a time when hundreds of thousands of our young men and women are deployed in the Middle East, is not acceptable.

“As we watch the inauguration today,” Gilbert wrote, “Republicans will take satisfaction in their victory and Democrats will find satisfaction in their defeat. But tomorrow it will be a nation—and not a party—that faces the dire problems of war, terrorism, poverty, and intolerance. Perhaps over the next four years we would all be wise to suppress our natural talent for happiness and strive instead to be truly, deeply distressed.”

So, in the days after the inauguration, I promise to be upset, active, and very unhappy. For now, these sentiments are the most important sentiments we Americans can express.

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