Freedom Talk: Biden and Democrats’ Top Agenda Under the Spotlight…

Vice President Kamala Harris began her speech in Arizona last week with a strong statement: “This fight is about freedom, and the freedom that is fundamental to the promise of America.” This came after the state’s Supreme Court maintained an 1864 statute barring abortion in almost all situations.

President Joe Biden somberly asks: “If Donald Trump gets back in power, what freedom will you lose next?” in a new abortion-focused video that the Biden campaign debuted in Arizona last week.

A historic role reversal has occurred as Democrats like Biden and Harris rely so substantially on the word “freedom” in this campaign. Democrats have traditionally prioritized concepts like “equality” and “justice,” whereas Republicans have tended to describe their agenda as expanding “freedom” and “liberty” since the New Deal 90 years ago.

When it comes to language, Republicans are still trying to stake a claim on the freedom landscape. In his criticism of the limitations that several states adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and what he terms the left’s attempt to impose “woke ideology,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has used the term virtually as a mantra for the last several years. Additionally, Trump criticizes Biden’s plan to encourage the use of electric vehicles, claiming it’s an effort to limit Americans’ ability to buy gas-powered automobiles.

Many experts believe that Democrats have a once-in-a-generation chance to turn this long-running debate around, thanks to the GOP’s efforts at all levels of government to undo the “rights revolution” of the last sixty years. This shift is exemplified by the proliferation of red-state laws that restrict access to abortion and maybe other forms of reproductive health care, like in vitro fertilization.

According to Melissa Deckman, CEO of the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, which studies the intersection of culture and politics, “Historically, Republicans have rooted their philosophical world view in liberty: for them it’s about freedom to own guns, to practice religion as they see fit” or cutting taxes, spending, and regulation. “Democrats are reimagining what freedom really means by using the term in new ways,”

Since Trump maintains a double-digit advantage in polls asking Americans to trust him more with the economy, Biden may find it particularly critical to change the conversation about freedom. That implies Biden needs to persuade a large percentage of people who think Trump is better for their financial line to vote against him nonetheless if he wants to win the election. It is quite probable that the president has the greatest opportunity to do so through addressing the interconnected matters concerning democracy, rights, and values. Deckman predicted that “if any issue”—”social issues like abortion”—would sway people who are more confident in Trump’s economic policies.

Even in the video he produced last year to announce his intention to run for reelection, Biden hinted at the freedom-focused nature of his campaign message. Biden begins the film with a strong statement: “Freedom,” as a foreboding piano key tinkles behind images of the January 6, 2021, uprising, abortion rights demonstrators, and the White House. As Americans, we take our right to personal freedom very seriously. Beyond this, everything else is secondary. There is nothing more holy. The question we’re confronted with, he continues, is whether in the years to come we enjoy greater or less liberty, more or fewer liberties. I believe you share my need for a specific response.

The video that Biden used to make his announcement naturally focused on the repeal of Roe v. Wade and the enactment of stricter or outright banned abortion restrictions in several Republican states. On the other hand, he brought up a plethora of other topics in order to accuse “MAGA extremists” of endangering “bedrock freedoms,” such as voting limitations, book bans, “telling people who they can love” (a reference to state legislation that roll back LGBTQ rights), and calls for cuts to Social Security.

Harris, who has spearheaded the administration’s message of freedom, has also cast a wide net. In her Martin Luther King, Jr. speech to the NAACP this year, Harris outlined the administration’s case for reelection, addressing many of the same issues raised by Biden in the video, including the right “to live free from the horror of gun violence” and the limitations placed on the teaching of the nation’s racial history by certain red states.

A liberal organization called Way to Win has been trying to get the party to focus on the freedom issue for a while now. They sponsor groups and campaigns that target minority voters. The group’s VP and top strategist, Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, claims that the key to depicting Trump and his supporters as a danger to freedom is to link all these other concerns to abortion.

She explained that the experience would be different if abortion were the sole option, compared to checking off all the other things that the couple is doing or plans to do. Even with other forms of reproductive rights, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) or the impending seizure of your contraceptive methods, we may state this. Because it hits close to home, abortion serves as a gateway to a broader narrative about individual liberties.

According to Biden campaign senior spokesperson Lauren Hitt, freedom will be the president’s compelling message since it appeals to many different types of voters. “It… meets the values of traditional Republican voters, suburban voters, and [Nikki] Haley primary voters – along with our core supporters who hold the firm belief that individuals should not have their personal lives dictated by the government,” she stated. “The critically important swing voters we’ll need to win in November will be won over by this exceptionally potent concept that is based on traditional democratic principles.”

Reacting to Biden’s ad that threatened to limit Trump’s liberties, the Trump campaign hit back. National campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt stated, “Under Joe Biden, Americans are less free, less safe, and less prosperous.” Joe Biden is running for president.

In response to widespread shifts in public opinion, political leaders on both sides have reemphasized their dedication to individual liberty, according to Daniel Cox of the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life. The issue is important to individuals, and both sides understand it, according to Cox. It’s powerful language at a period when people are more self-reliant. We tend to be less concerned with the well-being of the community as a whole. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that both major parties are trying to use this terminology in their campaigns.

The subject is still “contested ground” that may be slanted in favor of either party, according to Cox, despite the Democrats’ renewed focus on rights protection. According to him, Republicans have been “on their heels” in defense of abortion restrictions, like the verdict in Arizona last week. However, he pointed out that Republicans have been successful in other campaigns by portraying themselves as protecting “parent’s rights,” such when Glenn Youngkin ran for governor of Virginia in 2021. (It’s worth mentioning that in the 2023 Virginia state legislature elections, when two contentious issues—abortion rights and parental rights—converged, Democrats who prioritized the former achieved majority control, while Republicans prioritized the latter.)

Voters are still undecided about which political party will protect their most fundamental liberties, according to polls. Unpublished nationwide polling shared exclusively with HEADLINESFOREVER by PRRI shows that Democrats and Republicans hold drastically different priorities when it comes to protecting certain rights. Late last year, researchers polled Americans on several issues; Republicans were more likely to report shrinking protections for gun ownership, religious freedom, and free speech, while Democrats were more likely to report shrinking authority over their own bodies. The sides are ignoring one another, Deckman stated. “The very definition of freedom determines whether the word is quintessentially American or not.”

When asked which political party they trusted better to manage various crises, participants in a previous NBC poll gave a similarly divided judgment. When asked about abortion, Democrats had an overwhelming 18-point lead in the poll. In contrast, 43% of people said Republicans had their back when it came to “protecting our constitutional rights,” while 35% said Democrats. Even among White women, who leant heavily toward Democrats on the issue of abortion, there was no clear winner when asked which party they thought would best protect fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

Conservatives, historically speaking, are more prone than liberals to feel their rights are being attacked and to perceive governmental acts as an affront to their freedom, which may explain why the GOP has an advantage in this election. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to claim that they had lost rights and freedoms over the preceding decade in a 2022 study conducted by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. Republicans were also more likely—though not by quite the same margin—to anticipate a net loss of rights over the coming decade compared to gains.

The 2016 presidential campaign showed the real-life effect of that imbalance when Democratic-leaning voters mostly ignored Hillary Clinton’s warnings that a Trump victory would give him the power to shift the Supreme Court to the right, endangering fundamental rights like abortion.

Polling from Penn State shows that Biden will still have trouble rallying important parts of the Democratic coalition around a message about rights and freedoms, according to Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster who was employed by the super PAC that backed DeSantis in the 2024 campaign. Compared to Whites with a college degree or Republicans, he said, members of Generation Z, Blacks, and Latinos were far less likely to worry that they will see their rights eroded in the next decade.

“Whites, people with college degrees, and Boomers are more worried about the Democrats’ rights argument than young people and minorities are,” Wilson added. “While Biden’s ‘rights’ argument may resonate with his colleagues, it could be damaging to his chances of retaining support from the Democratic coalition’s more vulnerable members.”

However, the polling at Penn State took place prior to the Dobbs decision, which repealed the right to abortion across the country. As a result of this seismic shift, many political scientists feel that concerns about individual liberties are more important than ever before among the demographics that Democrats rely on, particularly among younger women. Deckman remarked, “These times certainly have made freedom a more accessible, even an existential, issue for people on the left,” in contrast to the Republican tendency to disregard such arguments.

When it comes to Wilson and Deckman, Fernandez Ancona is somewhat in agreement. According to her, the 2022 elections showed how many people are afraid of losing rights they thought were settled. “When you suddenly lose access to these things you’ve grown accustomed to, it can be a powerful source of inspiration,” she said. On the other hand, she thinks Democrats should make a bigger deal out of protecting individual liberties and show the 2024 election as a turning point in American policy that will affect economic opportunity and personal freedoms more than it is a contest between Trump and Biden.

She emphasized the importance of individuals realizing that they are faced with a choice between two possible futures. “It can help people stop comparing candidates and start asking themselves, ‘what do I like and what do I dislike about Trump or Biden?'”

The ever-increasing bickering between Biden and Republicans about freedom is perplexing and frustrating to libertarians. Since libertarians hold a conservative view that calls for less government involvement in economic and individual affairs, they typically hold the Republican Party in contempt on the former and the Democratic Party in contempt on the latter.

Both Biden and Trump have those shortcomings, according to David Boaz, a renowned senior scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute. “The Biden-Harris plan ain’t got no freedom beyond what’s already in there, beyond reproductive freedom and a lot of LGBTQ freedom,” Boaz questioned of the Biden presidency. According to Boaz, Republicans have worked to limit economic freedom by advocating high tariffs and penalizing corporations they dislike through government policy, like DeSantis did with Disney in Florida. This is in contrast to Trump’s claims that he is encouraging economic freedom through reducing taxes and regulation.

Although Boaz acknowledges that Biden and Trump have not been flawless when it comes to advancing freedom, he believes that Trump’s attempt to reverse the 2020 election is the only issue that separates them. “Why would anyone even think of voting for Biden instead of Trump, according to my friends? He’s the biggest spender ever, he’s regulating, and he’s woke.” So Boaz declared.

One reason, I’ll admit, is that Biden hasn’t attempted to halt the orderly handover of power. That’s the crux of the matter. Consider all these [other] factors and make a decision based on that. “However, Trump’s attempt to steal an election is the major freedom issue that Biden has with Trump,” Boaz continued.

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