Important decisions in a democratic society are determined by a majority vote of the eligible members of that society. The vote total is a blending of the opinions of many people, and the opinions are not carbon copies of each other.

We have all heard a person describing himself as fiscally conservative but socially liberal, which might look to be a serious contradiction, but still a fair assessment.

The explanation lies in a privilege granted civilized man by the maker and defined by theological scholars as free will. Instinct is built into any animal. It is a reaction to a special circumstance, such as recoil when one touches a hot stove. Free will is a choice made among various solutions available when the selection is made.

The English noun “freedom” has several dictionary definitions. In addition to liberty, self-determination and autonomy, there is one definition that, to me, says it all: “exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.” That is simple enough.

To further specify more precise meaning, most use requires other words, such as “individual freedom,” “freedom of speech,” “academic freedom” or “freedom of the press.” Use of the word “freedom” without a modifier is risky in a nation of carefully written laws.

Freedom allows personal opinions about current events, and the interpretation is as varied as there are people. One person’s fact is another person’s lie — since, as the old adage goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution (part of a package called the Bill of Rights) states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Delivery systems for today’s speech and press now include radio, television and electronic media, distribution methods not available when the Bill of Rights was ratified by the states and appended to the Constitution. The 24-hour news cycle means that the volume of story material is many times that of even the daily newspapers.

Today’s press outlets have many modifiers, such as “the liberal press,” “the right-wing press,” “the middle-of-the-road press,” “scandal sheet,” “yellow-dog journalism,” and on and on. Press writers and editors may attempt to refrain from an ideological impact on content, but in reality that is an impossible goal. All people have opinions, and opinions will influence the written story.

Each press outlet has its ideological supporters, some of whom agree mildly and others who consume each and every idea literally. In many cases, it is useless to attempt to influence the opinion of a person fully subscribing to a particular point of view. Salesmanship may work for a product, but an individual’s opinions seldom stray from his established roots.

Still, freedom impacts a person at any moment in time. It is the freedom to change a personal opinion and the freedom to act on the change that propels politics.

A more rational person will consume information from a variety of sources and blend the data together to reach his personal interpretation.

He will factor in the believability when compared to material he has already assimilated and adjust his thinking.

A less rational person will apply a deeply held belief to the facts and find a cause-and-effect that fits his underlying rationale. Two individuals looking at the same set of facts will react differently based on their previously held set of values.

In the real world, you only have to look at the interpretation of the performance of the U.S. economy. One ideological side says things are getting better and cites certain data, while the other side cites other data to “prove” there is little or no improvement. Freedom lets us disagree until time has produced another set of facts on which to base a future claim.

In a democratic society, periodic election provides blended results that favor one future course of action or another. In between elections, the policymakers will respond to public opinion on their jobs and produce a set of results. They know the public does not want to discuss the past, and most have an eye on the next election. So they will bundle various performance measurements and loudly bloviate to those who will listen.

With freedom as a foundation, the voted policies have the best chance for success.

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