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Are we as free as we think?

Friday was President Ronald Reagan’s 93rd birthday. Watching the coverage of the event, I came across a quote from Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address. He said, “Government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” Hearing that quote again caused me to ask a rather pointed question about the state of our country these days: “Is this really freedom?”

Our country was founded upon it. It is claimed to be our nation’s ongoing goal. We even go to wars partly on the rationale of bringing it to others. But, is our nation really upholding the principles of freedom today?

When we force kids to go to public schools that are teaching them everything but the basics, is that really freedom? We hear stories of schools handing out condoms to students and teaching young kids — too young to be taught it — about sexuality. We even hear of students being told that they can’t pray at their lunch tables or at sporting events at school because they might offend others or because it violates the “separation of church and state.” Should taxpayers be forced to pay for public schools if they teach things to their children that go against their values?

When our tax system takes money from one person and gives it to another, is this really freedom? We hear Democratic presidential candidates and liberals in general say that tax cuts are only for the wealthy. But, in reality, the wealthy are the ones who pay the most in taxes — the top 50 percent of wage earners pay 96 percent of all income taxes in the United States. There are tax policies that give income tax credits to people who don’t even pay income taxes. Where does that money come from? You guessed it, those who actually pay income taxes. Those with higher incomes not only pay a higher amount, but also a higher percentage. They call it the “progressive tax system.” If the government weren’t doing it, we would call it stealing.

When employers are forced to pay for nonproduction related costs, such as government-mandated benefit plans, is that really freedom? There’s nothing wrong with a company offering health and retirement benefits to its employees. But when government forces them to do so, it’s an abridgement of the employer’s freedom. The same is true for minimum wage laws. There are now some, such as former Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), who want to implement an even higher “living wage.”

When government injects itself into the business of protecting people from themselves rather than sticking to the job of protecting people from others, is this really freedom? Smoking has been outlawed in privately owned businesses. Bicyclists are required to wear helmets in order to ride their bicycles. And there are countless other examples of areas of personal behavior and responsibility being taken away from the individual to decide for themselves.

I could go on with more examples of government’s encroachment on individual freedoms and liberties, but I hope by now you get the point. Through many years of “progressive” change in our country’s history, the basis for its founding, freedom, has been damaged. In the pursuit of liberal ideals, we have cast away the principles of limited government and individual freedom.

Unfortunately, this problem cannot be narrowed down to just an encroachment on liberties by liberals. Some conservatives are to blame for some of the problem as well. Examples include farm subsidies, the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement and President George W. Bush’s recent proposal to dramatically increase funding to the National Endowment for the Arts — a program that has been used to fund private art that many people find offensive.

It’s a systemic problem in our government that needs to be addressed and eventually solved for our country to live up to its ideals of limited government and individual liberty.

President Reagan summed up this idea, and really his entire presidency, in his farewell speech to the nation in 1989. He said, “Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: ‘We the people.’ ‘We the people’ tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us.”

Adam Fowler is a junior majoring in political science.