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It’s basketball season, which means that our campus is once again bleeding Hoya blue. Excitement ran high after we crushed Michigan 74-52 at our last home game. But while everyone else was screaming the fight song, a friend of mine was having a nationality crisis.

She is the quintessential international Hoya—half French, half Filipino, she was born in Venezuela and raised in Singapore. (And yes, she’s in the SFS). Which explains why she might not know all of the words to our national anthem. And sure, she wasn’t wild about placing her hand over her heart and staring at the American flag, waving high above our heads in the stadium rafters. What America had to do with basketball, she wasn’t sure, though she was willing to play along. But the climax of the anthem inspired in her a profound sense of isolation, as she stood surrounded by her apparently reverent American peers. It prompted a question I stumbled over, whose answer seemed at once obvious and uncomfortable. She asked me why Americans cheer at the words “the land of the free.”

It’s true—every time I’ve heard the Star Spangled Banner, the applause is loudest at our anthem’s natural climax, the word “free” striking the song’s highest note. Nowadays, the anthem is linked to the stadium crowd, to hot-dog-and-popcorn-toting fans clutching extra-large slurpees to their chests as they murmur along with the celebrity vocalist du jour. “The land of the free” is a phrase both sets of fans in the stadium can agree on; it may be the only time during the game that the two sides are cheering for the same reason. Watching my bewildered friend describe our reaction as the “American swagger,” I couldn’t help but think of the political visions for America in 2008. For me, it begs the question, which side of the political spectrum is really fighting for the land of the free?

Americans are divided on more issues than Congress can legislate in a decade. So, too, are they divided on what freedom means for America. Democrats and Republicans alike cheer along with the stadium fans when talking about America as a free nation. But the Land of the Free is a big claim to make—and a liberal opinion of our country is not without its share of censure. Truthfully, many aspects of America are not all that free. Antiquated laws prevent certain marriages on no justifiable basis, and many poor children still receive little or no medical care. And while conservatives are all vying for the best way to defend our country from an elusive enemy, a Democratic administration will be faced with the weighty task of correcting the fractured image of America abroad. A Republican administration, on the other hand, seems to envision freedom from taxes, gun control, and atheists. Many of the issues dividing the parties boil down to various “freedoms from” and “freedoms to”—gay marriage, border control, abortion, the War on Terror, tax reform, the 2nd amendment, and civil rights, to name a few. Though the Republicans are heralded as the patriot’s party, conservative campaign slogans such as Tancredo’s “It’s your culture: fight for it!” seem to fly in the face of any logical understanding of freedom.

As a liberal, I do my fair share of critiquing the current government. But I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to stand with my hand over my heart and sing our national anthem. Yet I am not fully confident when our collective voices reach that highest note. The land of the free is a vision for the future, it is about hope and about progress. A successful Democratic administration must not compromise our freedoms for power’s sake. But just like that old joke, maybe that’s why Francis Scott Key put “freedom” such a high note—because it’s so hard to reach.