Douglas Brinkley: Inconvenient History

Douglas Brinkley (the one who appears on cable shows with the title “historian”) complains in the Washington Post that “the right has hijacked the word ‘freedom’ from the progressive movement.”

…Historian Douglas Brinkley points out that Bush’s use of “freedom” as political rhetoric pulls a fast one on liberals. The word had mostly been adopted by Democratic and progressive movements. Think of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” Brinkley said, or the “Freedom Rides” into the segregated South during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, or the “freedom movement” to end the Vietnam War in the same period.

But Brinkley, whose book on John Kerry’s Vietnam service, “Tour of Duty,” became grist for a conservative attack on the Democratic candidate during the presidential campaign, says conservatives have given the word a different spin.

“The right has hijacked the word ‘freedom’ from the progressive movement,” he said. “It’s now becoming associated with the global liberation policy of the Republican Party. The left hasn’t put up much of a fight to stop it.”


1) Brinkley remembers the civil rights Freedom Rides of the early 1960s as part of the “Democratic and progressive movements.” The progressives (read: liberals) did support the Freedom Rides. Democrats, at best, were split. (Think for a minute about which political party controlled the segregated southern states.)

2) At the 1964 Republican National Convention, in the most significant non-Reagan American conservative speech of the last 100 years, Barry Goldwater said:

“…My fellow Americans, the tide has been running against freedom. Our people have followed false prophets. We must, and we shall, return to proven ways — not because they are old, but because they are true.

We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom.

Freedom made orderly for this nation by our constitutional government. Freedom under a government limited by laws of nature and of nature’s God. Freedom balanced so that liberty lacking order will not become the slavery of the prison cell; balanced so that liberty lacking order will not become the license of the mob and of the jungle.

Now, we Americans understand freedom; we have earned it, we have lived for it, and we have died for it. This nation and its people are freedom’s models in a searching world. We can be freedom’s missionaries in a doubting world.

But, ladies and gentlemen, first we must renew freedom’s mission in our own hearts and in our own homes…

The word “freedom” was a major theme of conservatism in the 1960s. And since. (Does Brinkley not remember that the #1 objective of the Reagan Administration was victory in the Cold War — or does he not understand what the Cold War fundamentally was about?)

3) Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech concludes with a message that could have been — and, arguably, was — delivered by George W. Bush:

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands, heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

Contrast them with the ideas expressed in these lines from Bush’s Second Inaugural:

From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.

Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

Bush is continuing Roosevelt’s work, not hijacking it. (I refer to continuing FDR’s work as outlined in the quoted excerpt and the passages supporting it — parts of the rest of FDR’s speech, including its January 1941(!) support for disarmament, could be read as a case study of how liberalism failed).

Freedom is neither a Republican nor Democrat value; it is an American value. We do not hijack it from one another; we defend it together.

Douglas Brinkley, partisan, just doesn’t get it.

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