The Republicans and Tea Party advocates have perverted the concept of liberty. When they appeal to “individual rights” and “liberty” to critique the American government, they are reframing key American ideas in new ways and in ways that are arguably perverted. But they pretend they are the same ideas with which this country was founded. Any student of religion knows that the same is true of religious faiths. Every religious group finds its own ideas in the ideas of Moses, Jesus and so forth. The founders can always be made to appear like one wants them.
It is true that the liberty idea was one of the core ideas in the American founding. But the context and meaning of that idea were different then from now. Then, Americans were breaking away from an imperialist British Empire that was economically and politically suppressing the American colonies. Americans had no representation in the British Parliament that made decisions about their taxes. It was taxation without representation. They did not vote for their elected officials nor did they send members to Parliament.
We, by contrast. live in a government structured the way the founders wanted. It is a republican government elected by the people with a balance of powers built in to protect the minority from the majority. We do have representation in the government that makes laws over and for us. One can argue that the government is no longer working. But that is a different argument. As long as we are represented by a government that we collectively elected, the system is a free one, even if it is a broken one. “Being broken” and being “not-free” are different things, at least theoretically. In fact government always seems broken to someone or some group, by definition. Liberty as the founders envisioned it was living under the rule of a government that was structured to give the people a significant voice but also to balance the risk of majorities suppressing minorities.
Republicans and Tea Party advocates talk as if the United States suppresses individuals the way the British Empire suppressed the colonies. The context is different, the problem is different and an appeal to liberty is misleading and in many ways perverted.