I almost made it through Independence Day without hearing Lee Greenwood. Alas, I asked too much of myself and this great land.

When I heard it on Tuesday evening, under protest, I marveled at the spectacular corniness of the lyrics. Of particular note is the refrain insisting that the best part about being American is that, come what may, at least Americans have Freedom.

This song was written at the tail end of the Cold War and relied heavily, as did all unsophisticated appeals to patriotism, on the Communist boogeyman. People who lived through that era remember well the tales of political prisons, bread lines, state-controlled everything, and generalized gray malaise that awaited the Free World if Communism were to emerge victorious from the battle of ideologies.

There is no point in rehashing all of that here. What is important and uncontroversial is that the Cold War is over. Communism is Over, despite the handful of mental stragglers who insist that China's lip-service version counts. Other than North Korea, which is too crazy and pitiful to serve as a boogeyman that threatens the Way of Life of the Free World, it is difficult to find examples today of people who are not Free in the sense that Lee Greenwood and Americans during the Cold War used that term.
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There are only two threats to the Freedoms of Americans now: ourselves, and our economic system.

To the extent that Americans are not free to say or live as they please today, it is because groups of people who have been oppressed continue to be oppressed by a political majority that insists on imposing its beliefs and cultural attitudes on everyone. To the extent that our ability to do what we please with our lives is limited, it is because we are all too busy trying to scrape together enough money to make ends meet to do anything else.

Implicit in the Cold War Freedom narrative was the ability of a person who worked to earn enough to support a family and perhaps even enjoy a few things in life. Now that we have replaced that notion with "Get a second job" and "Spend your free time serving people in the Sharing Economy," the idea that we are Free because we can wave Bibles around and hoard guns and go online and say awful, stupid, unhinged things is only fooling the easily fooled at this point. An honest appraisal of their own lives by anyone who spent Tuesday belting out Lee Greenwood's chorus would conclude that we are all as free as we can afford to be, and no more. Big Brother isn't the reason you're not free to do what you want with your life; capitalism is.

That is not to say, "Tear down capitalism! Anarchy! Full Communism or fuck off!" It is to say that we owe it to ourselves to be realistic about what, if anything, makes us feel less Free.
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What are the limitations of your life? What makes it so that you can't say what you want to say, live where and how you want to live, and be happy as you define it? There's a very good chance that the answers to those questions sound the same for most of us: you need a paycheck, and you're tied to a job you probably hate. And because of forces entirely beyond your control, it's very likely impossible for you to quit, move, live as you please, and still somehow pay your ever increasing cost of living.

If "Freedom" means saying whatever we want on the internet and buying a lot of stuff, we have Freedom. But take a look at the unemployment numbers, your stagnant earnings, and the job opportunities around you and Freedom in a more mature, meaningful sense may not feel like the right word anymore.

51 thoughts on “AT LEAST I KNOW I'M FREE”

  • "Freedom!" is our brand, and our slogan. The lawyers would call it puffery.
    Nobody takes that shit seriously.

  • One of the creepier incidents during a 4th of July community band concert I attended was the sheer number of people in the crowd who suddenly, and apparently independently, decided that a big band cover of a Lee Greenwood tune was the sort of thing they needed to be standing at their seats for. Probably the high point of the concert for much of the crowd.

  • And just wait 'til you or spouse or kid get sick with something awful or have a crippling accident. Hoo boy, good times a' comin' then!

    Evidently one of the old Andean cultures [the Moche? I'm too lazy to Google it right now on the spot, so much easier to post half-remembered shit] ceremonially sacrificed their wealthy elite? I wonder how they thought that one up?

    Guess what! It's your turn to dress up as The God for the annual barbecue!

  • c u n d gulag says:

    The fall of the USSR and Communism was, in retrospect, the worst thing that ever happened to American workers.

    While the USSR and Communism were around, our Capitalists felt that to avoid the kind of revolutions Russia and China had, they had to show how much better off our citizens were, than the ones living there.
    Also, many of them (or their parents) lived through the Great Depression, when the threat of a nationwide revolution were pretty real – think, "The Grapes of Wrath."
    They allowed unions to exist, as kind of a pressure valve.
    The fear, and search, for "Fifth Columnists" were very real.
    The Capitalsts had to nip that shit in the bud, before it spread!

    And so, to save their own asses and fortunes, they paid liveable (plus) wages, gave workers decent benefits – to the point where even non-union workers shared a lot of the same benefits as the ones who fought, got injured, even died, to get them.

    Fast-forward to now:
    No Communist threat?
    – Workers can go fuck themselves.
    – Fuck liveable wages.
    – Fuck benefits.
    – Fuck sick-time, paid breaks & vacations.
    – Health care? You're shitting us, right? FUCK THAT SHIT, SUCKERS!
    – Oh, and thanks for the gift of your pension funds – btw, our political buddies will soon come around for your Social Security money for us to divide .
    – So, in general, FUCK YOU! IT SUCKS TO BE YOU!!!

    Yeah, you know what we should be calling having as our blood enemy a Communist/non-Plutocratic-Oligarchical Russia – with satellite nations – and a Communist-non-Plutocratic-Oligarchical China – with satellite nations – in our past?
    Good times, my poor fellow comrades…
    Good times…

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Btw – I was not then, nor am I now, a Communist.
    Though I did read Marx & Engels (which I highly recommend, if you are ever having problems with insomia).

    I'm just pointing out something which I either thought of, or read a long tims ago, and forgot where and/or by whom.
    It sucks getting older…

  • Sorry dudes. Its just too chilly in here.

    July 3rd I went to an evening baseball game: Tacoma Rainiers vs Albuquerque isotopes; the skies were clear, the air was warm, the smell of hot dogs and barbeque was wafting in the breeze, the setting sun was reflecting off Mt Rainier; three parachutists dropped from the sky into the stadium with smoke streamers and the American flag; and over a draught of beer I watched the local team shut out the Isotopes. Life was good! We took off our hats at the singing of the national anthem, and again at the singing of god bless America at the bottom of the 6th.

    I got to thinking that I have been way too cynical with all of the bad stuff going on politically, and its eating away at how I relate to the world. Sure, I've been unemployed for 10 months. I start each day picking my self respect off the floor to put in some hours looking for a job. I can recite the litany of injustices of the current economic and political system as well as the rest of you. But I can't tell you how happy I am that there is a operational (profitable) ball park, a paid baseball team, and thousands of like-minded Tacomans who put away their misery for an evening to come out and have a great time, sing silly songs, cheer our team on. I am glad there are these American traditions. It can seem like everything is going to hell in a handbasket and that nothing is fair…but it can still be good. Yeah, we all need more money; the current way capitalism is practiced is likely to blame, but many of the important events that give us a sense of well being don't take a lot of money: (making time with friends, evening walks by the river, etc.). If you don't find some reason to be thankful for being alive you won't feel free, regardless of what country you live in.

  • One of the nearby cities had its annual fireworks display and the local tv news was covered it on the news the next afternoon. They played the song Born in the USA–I'm not sure if it was officially part of the show, or someone at the news studio added it to the broadcast.

    Born in the USA? Seriously?!?! I had flashbacks to St. Ronnie Raygun praising the song as a True Patriot ™ song, obviously without listening to the lyrics.

    I also remember when Proud to be an American was proudly being played in heavy rotating on the AM stations (which was all the family car could receive in the early 1980s). Most of us knew it was schlock back then, but we were fresh off the Iranian Hostage Crisis and belligerent displays of FREEDUMB!!! were part of daily life.

  • P.S. Not dissing the song Born in the USA at all. It and Allentown were popular around the same time and showed the reality of life for many Americans. I was at the stage of my life where I was all about pointing out the hypocrisy.

  • I think you may actually be explaining why "regular" people hate feminists and SJWs so much. For your average American imbecile, FREEDOM! means "don't nobody tell me what to do, nohow." They aren't quite able to understand that they're being manipulated by capitalistic forces into maintaining a single-dimensional worldview that limits what they think in the first place; or, they dimly realize it, but because they depend on their paycheck to buy stuff and their equally-stupid friends and neighbors to approve of what they buy, they can't act on their suspicions. So all that dimly-realized resentment trickles down to Black Lives Matter and people who suggest it might not be a good idea to refer to all women as 'c*nts.' Which isn't to say that liberals/progressives are all saints and angels with no subterranean psychological issues, of course. I'm just always looking for a way to explain the violent pushback I get from dipshits who refer to me as a 'libtard' and tell me they think I need to be correctively raped when I defend the right of poor Americans not to starve and to have healthcare, or suggest that devoutly Muslim neighbors would be much less irritating to live next to than violent, drunk rednecks.

    I think dumb, aging white people (and their dumb, aging spawn) are incapable of understanding freedom in the way you've outlined it here. I think it frightens them. They don't want to move somewhere "better," they don't want to change the way they live, they don't want to revise the terrible political opinions they inherited from their good-for-nothing alcoholic father. I think the Great Trump Et Al. Victory is a direct result of their fear of that kind of freedom, and of their dismay at the thought that demographic change would force it on them, and on the misconceptions they mistake for history, at some poorly-defined point in the future (death).

    So they cherish their branded alternative: FREEDOM! Which means getting to use the n-word online and not get called out for it.

    My opinion, anyway.

    I would sink every last nickel I have into the invention of a time machine that would allow me to go back to the 40s and turn Lee Greenwood's mom into a lesbian before she made the ill-advised decision to get pregnant with him. I do have *some* national pride.

  • Regarding the gig economy; where I live, I'm seeing the people who do it get broken down and exhausted. Just last weekend I visited with a guy I've known for a decade who's got a whole string of gigs–you name it, he'll try his hand at it. Untreated high blood pressure wrecked his kidneys (he's on dialysis) and he just had a stroke that left him blind. Another woman I know slightly is also blind because of some untreated underlying disease (don't know the details). I'm very worried for one of my youngest supervisees, who's not only working fulltime, but also has a weekend barbecue business and teaches yoga during the week. How long can the human body run at that pace before it falls apart?

    Why are people pushing themselves so? In my industry, everything runs on the contract, which used to be a yearlong agreement–the worker works and the contract holder pays them. Now, however, the contract holder is absolutely free to renege on the agreed-upon salary or cut the funding entirely, leaving the worker either unemployed for long periods of time or hopping from contract to contract, thus losing 401k money, health insurance benefits, and things like vacation and sick leave.

    So, people take second and third jobs, push themselves too hard, and collapse.

  • I don't think the .001% have many more ideas than the rest of us, so they'll try to operate the economy like this until it's incontrovertibly busted, and maybe for a while after. Should we survive, we'll have great stories.

  • I can still hear Proud to be an American being belted out at Stone Mountain, with the accompanying laser show from my childhood…

    I was reading the Night Watch series from Russia, its hard to catch all the nuisances with an English translation, but in the third book "Freedom" is referenced as kind of a sick joke, probably for the reasons Ed describes.

  • Basically you're free to show up to work or go sleep under an overpass.

    Except it's illegal to sleep under an overpass.

    "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."
    – Anatole France

  • seniorscrub says:

    "Big Brother isn't the reason you're not free to do what you want with your life; capitalism is."
    Funny you should post this. I'm re-reading '1984' now and have gotten to the part where Winston is reading the 'forbidden book'. I'd say that Big Brother and Capitalism as practiced now are one and the same to the point that the fourth tenet of Ingsoc was probably "Poverty is Wealth".

  • Prairie Bear says:

    I'm wondering, did they stand for the entirety of PTBAA, or sit until the "stand UP" moment in the song? The latter was the way I remember it originally being done. It always was such a thrill, and so clever. Except that some folks kind of lost track and missed it and then all the stragglers were looking around confusedly and dragging themselves to their feet and spoiling the effect. It's probably better if everyone does it at the beginning. I guess the truly enthusiastic patriots could climb up on their chairs at the climactic moment. Also, are there prescribed hand positionings for the song? I don't remember any.

    God Bless Vespucciland!

  • Loyal to the Group of Seventeen says:

    I noticed Ed posted that New Yorker article on Richard Rorty the other day. It seems like he’s been popping up everywhere lately. My theory is that many leftists/progressives came out of the election thinking that perhaps some of the accusations tossed by the right were valid. We are, after all, willing to self-criticize. Perhaps we’ve been too self-critical, too willing to mock, and unwilling to indulge in the rah-rah that is necessary for popular politics. Perhaps, as Rorty claims, some degree of national pride is necessary psychology for the masses.

    I went into my 4th with that in mind and I did enjoy myself but…I’m just too cynical for that sort of thing. I guess I’ve always had an imbalance of choleric bile.

    What kills me even more than the schmaltzy, shitty songs is the constant invocation of “those who paid the price for our freedom” “freedom isn’t free” etc. Ah yes, I forgot the Bill of Rights would have been rescinded had we not invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam etc.

    Complete ideology. Utter garbage.

  • This is petty, but fuck it:

    The song loses me almost immediately because of the ignorance of the lyrics:

    "And I'm proud to be an American / WHERE at least I know I'm free…"

    And inwardly, I sneer "Wrong conjunction, asshole. 'Where' refers to a place. 'American' is not a place. It's a person. How hard would it have been to swap in 'So'? Implying that because I'm an American, I am therefore free–same message, correct grammar, you fucking mouth-breather. Moreover–"

    And by the time I get through this inner rant, the song is over and we've moved on to Charlie Daniels and then it's off to the races with THAT xenophobic piece of shit–

    –I really should stop going to monster truck rallies, come to think.

  • "Noskilz Says:
    July 5th, 2017 at 10:07 pm
    One of the creepier incidents during a 4th of July community band concert I attended was the sheer number of people in the crowd who suddenly, and apparently independently, decided that a big band cover of a Lee Greenwood tune was the sort of thing they needed to be standing at their seats for. Probably the high point of the concert for much of the crowd."

    Not at all similar to that scene in Cabaret where all the good Volk at the rural beer garden stand up and start singing 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me'…

  • Steve Holt! says:

    Freedom? I haven't had a vacation in a dozen years. My time off and the money I would spend to relax somewhere nice is spent for the twice a year trips to the specialist clinic to make sure that my exhausted body will make it another six months. Having a genetic predisposition just makes you a great target market group.

  • Awwwwww, man…the Raniers beat the 'Topes? Jeez.

    As long as I am free to buy as many guns as I can afford, I suppose I'm happy.

    Kidding, of course. I would happily support a Fourth of July BBQ which featured Rich Man's Ribs and Bourgeois Brisket. Good idea, Noskilz.

    Sort of related: I was at the opening performance of the season at the Santa Fe Opera last Friday. We were all settled in our seats when the orchestra started up with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Everyone stands up. WTF? I did not stand up and angrily groused throughout the song about it being played and there was no way I was going to support such garbage. It was explained to me later that the SFO always plays the SSB at the start of each season. The Met does it, too. Annoying as hell.

  • When someone tells me that this is the land of the free I tell them to drive down the road without wearing a seat belt and see how free you are.

    I love my country but I despise my government.

  • Rejected By Target says:

    I will turn 50 in a few months, and this is my fifth year without a job (I have a degree in business admin along with a certificate in design). I was deemed "unemployable" at the age of 46 — too old? too female? I've given up trying to figure it out anymore. I've accumulated over 1,500 job rejections which includes minimum wage shelf stocker at Target. Where do you go when you've been rejected by Target? After losing my home (I'm residing in my mom's basement) and doing a lot of soul searching (I seriously contemplated ending my life), I decided to get a TEFL certificate and try to head overseas to start a new life teaching English. It's been another struggle due to the work permit issue as I really have no desire to go to China/Asia (and my age is still a factor as well, *sigh*), so I am now in the process of applying for a Czech freelance work permit (I have my interview with the consulate in NYC in two weeks). I'm hoping this will lead to landing a teaching gig in Prague. I still find myself in a bit of a daze about the whole thing. This sure ain't the future I was promised when I was a kid. Nobody ever told me to prepare to be unemployable at 46, and that I have to leave America to reclaim some kind of meaningful life (dare I say, "freedom?") seems quite bizarre, but I'm finally coming to terms with it all…

  • @Rejected

    Sounds like my sister. 48 years old and lost her job as a store manager. She has been unable to find anything since. Fortunately her husband at least has a decent job.

  • Psychoceramicist says:


    That reminds me the visits that some members of my red-state family used to make to my very affluent, blue state city. Over the course of visits, they'd become more resentful, judgmental, and defensive, and I think you hit the nail on the head.

    So much of middle and lower class "real 'Muricans" source of pride and self esteem is based off the idea that they live in the best country and best places on Earth and they are truly in control of their lives. It's just not true. They die sooner, eat shittier food, have less leisure time, and earn less than liberals in prosperous cities and people in virtually any other first world country, but actually accepting that reality would be too psychologically devastating for them. Christianity is less and less of a salve than it used to be, and nothing's replacing it. All they have left is the media networks and memes and rickety belief systems that reassure them of their grievances and give them an outlet to abuse city people, Muslims, professional women, queers, and basically anyone else who was supposed to be less happy and successful than they are.

  • anotherbozo says:

    A woman from St. Petersburg cites many "unfree" aspects of her life in S.F. compared to Russia.

    The takeaway of Ed's post: "Big Brother isn't the reason you're not free to do what you want with your life; capitalism is."

    And isn't capitalism just as coercive as Orwell's boogeyman? The 1% have almost as much control over you as any totalitarian state, and the bad news is that they want MORE.

  • @JDryden; you critique song lyrics, too? I thought I was the only one.

    @RejectedbyTarget; can you tutor right in your own hometown? In my state (yours may differ from mine) several tutors got started substitute teaching, then letting it be known they also tutor. Local schools in my county have lists of tutors with one-paragraph resumes (for example, Math tutor with MBA in Finance, XXX experience). If you tutor privately, you can set your own rates. Otherwise, all I can share is my sincere wish things get better for you.

  • Lee Greenwood's song is awesomely bad, to the point where every time it came on the radio (after 9/11 the local oldies station would play it at 17.00 for some reason), I couldn't not listen. It's like an audio train wreck you can't avoid. Here's my reasoning-

    The song got super popular right around the first Gulf War. It had been associated with the return of hostages from Lebanon, but that was overshadowed by Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

    Now if you listen to the song, it really is a song of defiance. The idea is that he's lost everything…But the flag still stands for freedom! And they can't take that away?

    People were singing it as in defiance of Saddam Hussein, this guy who couldn't beat Iran and was put into dire straits economically by Kuwait.

    The whole concept is hilarious.

  • "Freedom" like nationalism and patriotism is a primitive emotion, easily exploited and lacking tangible reality.

    Take the rubes for a ride, Clancy, then let them hang in the wind.

  • I loathe Greenwood's song. Full stop. I despise the saccharine sentiment and shameless appeal to ignorance. It never ceases to amaze me when I watch the rubes sing along, belting out the lyrics without either irony or self awareness. I would have made it through this year's Independence Day holiday without having to confront this particular pet peeve, were it not for Ed's post.

    Upstream in the comments, one of the regular trolls (to be named later) was whining that his freedumb was being infringed by a seatbelt law. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a local libertarian following his serious car accident. His life was saved by both his seatbelt and his airbag. When I asked if he was thankful for the Nanny State, his response was that the market would have dictated those safety features and the Gubmint had nothing to do with saving his life. I thought he was joking and the encounter went downhill rapidly when I started laughing at him. Mencken was too generous in his estimate of 'Mur-kan intelligence.

  • From Wikipedia: "God Bless the USA" is an American patriotic song written and recorded by country music artist Lee Greenwood, and is considered to be his signature song. The first album it appears on is 1984's You've Got a Good Love Comin'. It reached No. 7 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart when originally released in the spring of 1984, and was played at the 1984 Republican National Convention with President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan in attendance, but the song gained greater prominence during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991, as a way of boosting morale.

    I knew there was a connection with St. Ronnie.

  • @Gregory

    As you probably already know:

    Ford offered seatbelts as an option sometime around 1956 or 1957. They didn't sell very many.

    GM offered airbags as an option on Cadillac sometime around 1968-70. They didn't sell very many.

  • @MK, yeah, that is the point, often lost on those who worship at the altar of the free market.

  • @Major Kong

    In 1981, the Reagan Administration tried to get rid of the requirement that automobile manufacturers install seatbelts in every vehicle, but apparently the American people weren't ready to return to the freedom of going headfirst through windshields.

  • I remember the drill sergeants playing that song at one of our first assemblies at the start of basic training. They said that we would appreciate it so much more at the end of training. They played it again at our basic training "graduation" ceremony. You know what? I hated that fucking song the first time I heard it and the second time. Still, it perfectly encapsulated the thinking of a certain type of person in the mid 1980s.

  • I'm wondering what the updated Four Freedoms, as painted by Norman Rockwell, would be like:

    – Freedom from Health Care – the right to die of a treatable disease

    – Freedom to Starve – the right to die of starvation and suffer from malnutrition

    – Freedom to Be Protestant – the right to not practice your religion lest it offend

    – Freedom to Fear – awk buk buk – said the little red hen

    – Freedom to Be Silenced

    I should really pick four and hire someone to paint them. (I can't draw or paint worth a damn, but we need some art for our times.)

  • "The Cold War is over"
    Good Lord, where do you live? You've got unsubstantiated stories about Russia hacking the election system coming from people like Howard Dean and Time magazine, outrage at the Russian occupation of Crimea, determination to engage in a dogfight with Russian aircraft in Syria, and you think the Cold War is over? What was over is teaching kids what the results of nuclear war would be. They've forgotten so fast that politicians now can actually advocate a shooting war with Russia and nobody has ever heard of fallout. None of them knows about radiation sickness. Most of them don'e have any knowledge of what the results were at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's widely acknowledged that our State Department, in the person of Victoria Nuland engineered the coup is Ukraine, and you think the Cold War is Over? I'm usually able to maintain my equanimity, but lately I live in pretty constant anxiety because the dipshits in charge, including people I though would turn out to be knowledgeable and prudent seem to be just as ill informed and fanatical as the worst tin-foil-hat wearers who only read Infowars.

  • @Procopius:

    "You've got unsubstantiated stories about Russia hacking the election system coming from people like Howard Dean and Time magazine,"


  • @Rejected by Target – Just curious – why have you rejected China/Asia? A lot of jobs here and you can make enough to save some. It's true that China has tightened up their visa regulations a bit – they now require 4 years teaching experience, but you could go to Thailand/Viet Nam/Cambodia, get your four years and then come to China. You're still young enough for all the visas (and will still be in 4 years).

    Just a thought.

  • E.A. Blair says:

    I want freedom from the tyranny of choice. I'd rather have a single-payer Medicare for all system than having to choose which private insurer is going to kill me.

  • I meant to mention earlier that Lee does personify good, wholesome, MurKKKan KKKristian PatriotikKK values.

    He sings jingoistic bullshit lyrics about MurKKKa but never, it seems, had time to bother joining any branch of the U.S. Military (Hi, Toby Keith and Charlies Daniels–among others). He loves being married to his beautiful wife, so much so that he went through the pain and humiliation of three divorces to get there.

    Hypocritical assholes.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    To rework an old quote, the majesty of freedom is that the rich and poor alike are free to live under bridges.

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