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Obama v. Romney: Two Radically Different Visions Of America's Future

We've got a stark choice: do we improve the systems that have made us rich and powerful in the past? Or do we tear them down in the name of "freedom," and hope for the best?

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Romney's idea of freedom is based on the notion that American citizens must sink or swim on their own and that they are free if they have as little social responsibility as possible. If all citizens are equally uncommitted to each other's well-being, protection and empowerment, freedom is maximized.

From a progressive point of view, Romney has it backward. The call for "small government" really translates into neglectful government. The continuous downscaling of tax contributions from those that gain the most capital in our economy disables the government to the point where it can no longer carry out its moral mission - the protection and empowerment of everyone equally.

What the conservatives are missing and what Obama and progressives and Democrats across the country should communicate clearly, is this: Maintaining a robust public provides the conditions for a decent life and for individual success. This is about giving citizens the freedom to succeed. And the contributions of individuals to the public are a way to show commitment to both their own continuous success and to the American nation as a whole.

This is a central issue, not a minor one. It underlies the political division in our country. Obama and the Democrats want to continue the public provisions upon which freedom and material success has been built in our nation. Romney and conservative Republicans want to dismantle the public and would thereby end the freedoms, the opportunities and the conditions for success that the public provides.

That is why the conservatives have distorted the president's remarks on the subject and have attacked him so viciously on the basis of that distortion. They do not acknowledge the importance of the public for private life and private enterprise. They do not acknowledge the fact that public provisions are a result of Americans organizing together to maximize personal and national success and maintain moral excellence.

The future of our nation is at stake. We must openly and regularly talk about the function of the public. And we must repeat the fact that the public constitutes the people working together to better their lives. The public is and has always been, requisite for our freedom, our success and our humanity as a nation. Every candidate for office and every patriotic American should be saying this out loud, over and over. The role of the public is the central issue in this election. It is the issue that will determine our future.

We dare not be intimidated by conservative misrepresentations. Our message is clear. It is obvious if you think about it. But it has to be repeated clearly and effectively. The president and all who believe in the promise of America need to go on the offensive on this issue. We cannot afford to be defensive about what is required for our freedom, our prosperity and our sense of humanity.

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Elisabeth Wehling is a political strategist and author working in the US and Europe. She is doing research in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, on how politics is understood both in America and Europe.

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.  He is co-author, with Elisabeth Wehling, of The Little Blue Book.

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