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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The politics of freedom

A seventh grade social studies teacher once asked my class to define America in one word. Some said opportunity, other diversity; I said freedom. It is our freedom that allows for opportunity, our freedom that allows for diversity, our freedom that allows us to be proud citizens of one of the oldest functioning democracies that exists to this day.

Over the years I have become disillusioned with the freedoms we hold so dear. This past year, the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, ranked the U.S. seventh in freedom. This study ranked countries by combining the economic and personal freedoms of each country’s citizens. According to the study, America is less free than New Zealand, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and Ireland. It is tied with Denmark.

How can the country with the most prisoners per capita also be the most free country?

This got me thinking: Is America really free? And if it is, does that truly distinguish it from other counties?

I’ve been studying in Rome for the past seven weeks, and beside the new perspective on education and culture this has provided me, it has helped me think about freedom in a new way. If you have been following the news, you know there are two big stories going on in Italy right now. First, the pope is resigning, something unheard of for the past 600 years. Second, monumental election took place on February 24th and 25th. It has the potential to throw Europe back into the economic crisis from which it has slowly been recovering.

To give you some background, there are about four big players right now in Italian politics: Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the center-left coalition; Mario Monti, an Italian economist and technocrat who was appointed as prime minister in 2011 and resigned at the end of 2012; Silvio Berlusconi, longtime face of Italian politics, former prime minister, and leader of the center-right coalition; and Beppo Grillo, an Italian comedian who is the face of the 5-star movement that has become disillusioned with Italian politics.

During this election, I have seen protests and political rallies in Rome that would have ended with police and pepper spray in the U.S. (read the Occupy Movement). I’ve seen strikes that would have been broken or deemed illegal in the U.S. I’ve seen disillusionment with the political process that has become so ingrained that Italian citizens are willing to vote for a comedian’s party to lead their state. In fact, the voter turnout is expected to drop almost 10 percent since the last national election.

Yet despite the many flaws with the Italian political system – and there are many – there is one thing I admire about Italy that I find repulsive about the U.S. — people vote. While numbers are not yet available for voter turnout in Italy, primary estimates say about 55 percent of Italians voted on the first day of the 2012 election. In 2008, during the last national election, 80 percent of Italians voted. 80 percent. In the U.S. presidential election in 2008? 57 percent, or a whooping 23 percent less than in Italy.

Maybe that speaks to our electoral system. After all, we only allow one day of voting, and it is a weekday. I know there are many ideas for electoral reform and I’ll leave those to better and brighter minds, but I will say this: Nothing will happen unless you make it. So call, email, or write your representatives in Congress , your mayors and your governors, hell, try the president. The point is, not to get involved is selfish. You allow the radicals on both sides to set the agenda, the ones who fight for no taxes and high taxes, the ones who want to ban all guns and legalize machine guns, and, perhaps worst of all, the ones who want to restrict the ability to vote in the first place.

They say that the safeguard to democracy is a well-informed electorate. An electorate that looks at its own needs and the needs of its nation. An electorate that knows its point of view and understands its opponents. An electorate that is not influenced by a corporation but rather by the people around them.

I have come to realize that while American politics seem to be more partisan than ever before, we can still sink lower. This realization, while disturbing, serves as a wake up call to the American electorate and its representatives.

Within the next week, Congress must stave off what has become known as the “fiscal cliff,” or the “sequester.” Automatic spending cuts across the board may stop what fragile recovery the U.S. economy has seen. This problem requires compromises from both the left and right. We are no longer the “best” or the most free country in the world, but if we work together and are willing to compromise not our principles but rather our agendas, we can be.

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