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Which four freedoms?

Republicans have a parallel vision of a future in which we do not have the basic freedoms and human rights that FDR espoused

BRATTLEBORO — When Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered his famous phrase, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," at his first inaugural address in 1933, he recognized that fear of the Great Depression could paralyze people and interfere with ways to address an unprecedented economic crisis. He realized that catastrophic thinking and overwhelming anxiety had the power to harm his plan for economic (and political) recovery.

He recognized, as Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl did, that "between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

FDR and Frankl were both right, and in many ways, we find ourselves in that space where fear and insecurity reside, inhibiting our ability to respond appropriately and effectively to the political, economic, and emotional situation we find ourselves in as a nation as we approach the most crucial election of our time.

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In his 1941 State of the Union address, FDR also said that there was "nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy." He noted that he looked forward to "a world founded upon four essential human freedoms," as The New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie has pointed out.

The freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship individually, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear. These values "were the guiding lights of Roosevelt's New Deal, and they remained the guiding lights of his administration through the trials of World War II," as Bouie reminds us.

In his column, Bouie also enumerated four freedoms that today's Republican party embraces.

They are, he says, the freedom to control, the freedom to exploit, the freedom to censor, and the freedom to menace.

"Roosevelt's four freedoms," he claims, "were the building blocks of a humane society - a social democratic aspiration for egalitarians then and now. These Republican freedoms are also building blocks not of a humane society but of a rigid and hierarchical one, in which you can either dominate or be dominated."

It's a parallel vision of a future in which we do not have the basic freedoms and human rights that FDR espoused.

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Should the Republicans win the White House and the Congress next year, we will find ourselves living in a theocratic, oppressive country driven by oligarchs and dictators who embrace fear, violence, and autocracy with absolutely no regard for fundamental freedom, privacy, or self-determination.

So let's think about some of the freedoms that should drive us to the polls in droves next November. First and foremost are the freedom from fear and the menace of gun violence as we walk the streets, attend houses of worship or schools, or as we simply go to the market, the movies, or the mall.

Let us also think about the urgency of freedom to control our bodies and our futures as we remember the women and girls who have been denied bodily autonomy and privacy and who have suffered and died as a result of forced pregnancy because the state owns their wombs.

Let us remember the women jailed for miscarriage, the health providers who live in fear of losing their licenses (or worse), and the mothers, sisters, friends, and advocates who could well be imprisoned for driving someone to the airport or across a state line.

Let us remember the freedom to speak openly and honestly; the freedom to gather, as guaranteed by the First Amendment; the freedom from censorship so that we can read books we choose; the freedom to worship in our own ways; and the freedom to keep our children free from want, whether it's food or healthcare or the right to be who they are.

Let our friends and families be free to live in the houses and neighborhoods they wish, be they Chinese, Syrian, Cuban, Muslim, Jewish, or other than straight.

Let there be an end to otherness, persecution, blinding stereotyping, and ungrounded assumptions that strike fear in the hearts of so many of us in this time.

Let us be free from financial and physical exploitation in the workplace, especially when that exploitation involves children.

And let us be free from willful prejudice, evil intentions, unenlightened faux leaders, and restrictive political actions that inhibit democracy, human rights, and social justice once and for all.

And let us remember the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, who said that "to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

Consider Mandela's words with the wisdom of Dag Hammarskjöld, former general secretary of the United Nations, who so wisely noted that "Freedom from fear' could be said to sum up the whole philosophy of human rights."

It's a philosophy we need to value, remember, and embrace. We are called upon it in this moment and in the days to come to do the right thing for future generations.

Elayne Clift ( has written about women, politics, and social issues from the earliest days of this newspaper.

This Voices column was submitted to The Commons.

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