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goldfish jumping out of the water

We have at least two kinds of freedom, and I think we often misunderstand them.

Take the First Amendment. We think of it as a “freedom to” law: freedom to speak, to assemble, to worship, and so on.

But that’s not what it says.

It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of relisgion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . . .”

That’s not “freedom to.” It’s “freedom from” — in this case, freedom from Congressional interference.

And that makes sense, because “freedom from” comes before “freedom to.” You can’t exercise your freedom to do something until you get freedom from whatever’s blocking you.

Another example: the Civil War. It gave African-Americans some freedom to determine their own destinies. But they couldn’t exercise that freedom until the war freed them from slavery.

Jump to the next century. Ronald Reagan felt that businesses could exercise their freedom to prosper only after they received freedom from over-regulation. Again, “freedom from” came before “freedom to.”

And when Franklin Roosevelt gave his famous speech about “Four Freedoms,” two of them were “freedoms from”: freedom from want and freedom from fear. People have to be free from illness, starvation, and neediness, and from terrifying war and invasion, before they can exercise the freedom to do — well, almost anything.

Which brings us to Obamacare.

Obamacare has helped to free people from awful medical conditions and heavy burdens of medical debt. This “freedom from” has increased their “freedom to”: the freedom to enjoy what America’s founders called the pursuit of happiness.

I’ll admit that Obamacare may have interfered with some freedoms as it expanded others. Creating freedom for one group often reduces freedom for another.
• In the early 1860s, some Southerners considered Abraham Lincoln a tyrant because, in their opinion, his desire to outlaw slavery would steal their freedom to enslave.
• By mandating safe food and medicine, the Pure Food and Drug Act reduced the freedom of businesses to peddle hidden poisons. But it freed Americans from the fear that the next thing that they’d put in their mouths might kill them.
• World War II’s military draft stole freedom from millions of men so that they could win a war to free millions of other people from tyranny.

So I don’t blame people for opposing Obamacare. I just think that it provides more freedom than it removes.