That idea got lost somewhere between Thomas Jefferson and John McCain. What do Republicans believe in? McCain told us Thursday: "We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law. … We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities."
Would it be too much to mention that what sustains the American vision of those things is freedom? That without it, personal responsibility becomes hollow and service is servitude?
Apparently it would. Republicans are big on promoting freedom abroad, but in this country, the term encompasses a lot of things they don't like -- the right to a "homosexual lifestyle," the right to protest the Iraq war, the right to privacy, the right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and more. Conservatives who once thought Americans had too little freedom now sometimes think they have too much.
Liberals, on the other hand, are wary of embracing freedom precisely because of its historic importance to the right. They fear it means curbing the power of a government whose reach they want to expand.
While they value many personal liberties, they have no great attachment to forms of freedom that involve buying, selling, trading and accumulating. Those, after all, can involve selfishness, and Democrats, like Republicans, don't want to protect selfishness.
But freedom isn't freedom without the right to pursue what you value -- money or knowledge, pleasure or sacrifice, God or atheism, community or misanthropic solitude -- rather than what others think you should value. It includes the right to go to hell, and the right to tell others to do the same.
The latter is a valuable prerogative that we have not yet lost. After watching the conventions, if you have the urge to use it on either of the two major parties, feel free. If he were alive, Barry Goldwater might join you.