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When Their Idea of Liberty Is Your Idea of Death

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At the heart of the American ethos is the contested idea of freedom. In the video announcing his 2024 re-election bid — pointedly called “Freedom” — President Biden staked out his vision, declaring: Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on bedrock freedoms, cutting Social Security that you’ve paid for your entire life, while cutting taxes from the very wealthy, dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books and telling people who they can love all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote. “The question we’re facing,” Biden told viewers, “is whether in the years ahead, we will have more freedom or less freedom.

More rights or fewer,” adding: Every generation of Americans will face the moment when they have to defend democracy. Stand up for our personal freedom.

Stand up for the right to vote and our civil rights. And this is our moment. The 2024 election shows every sign of becoming a partisan battle to claim ownership of the ideal of freedom, with each side determined to persuade voters that the opposition’s assertions are not just false but a threat to individual and group rights.

This dispute is possible because freedom as an abstraction is fraught with multiple and often conflicting meanings. The debate over where to draw the lines between freedom, liberty, rights, democracy, responsibility, autonomy, obligation, justice, fairness and citizenship has been going on for centuries, but has steadily intensified with the success of the liberation movements of the past seven decades — the civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and sexual rights revolutions.

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