The Pursuit of Happiness

With dozens of states lining up to contest the constitutionality of health-care reform as it passed through Congress last week, there is ample reason to take this charge seriously, not treat it as the final breath of a party of sore losers.

The states are fighting reform on two counts: first, that the Constitution doesn’t allow Americans to be forced to buy anything, even if it is in their own interest; and second, that it violates their Tenth Amendment right to legislate anything not explicitly mandated to the discretion of the federal government.

The White House doesn’t believe that they have much of a case. Federal law, after all, trumps state law. This is known as federal preemption. According to the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, state law is invalidated whenever it conflicts with legislation from Washington.

The presumed unconstitutionality of forcing citizens to buy a product or a service stands however and it is on this issue that the morality of the health-care bill must be contested.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Sunday night attested that the bill honors “the vows of our Founders,” because it “will lead to healthier lives, more liberty to pursue hopes and dreams and happiness for the American people. This is an American proposal,” she said, “that honors the traditions of our country.”

The president told a similar story later that day, claiming that health-care reform represents “another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream.”

The Founders were very explicit in what the United States government should and should not be. With memories of arbitrary rule and tyranny still fresh in mind, they had to be. So they devised a political system grounded in checks and balances that could never imperil the natural rights of man: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The rights to life and liberty are entwined and mutually ensured by man’s entitlement to the fruits of his own labor — the right to earn and hold property; a right which Thomas Jefferson believed was “founded in our natural wants.”

The right is pursue happiness is ensured by freedom: freedom from coercion and restraint in order to allow, reiterating Jefferson once more, “every man from his own industry or that of his fathers” to prosper.

There is nothing in the Declaration of Independence nor in the Constitution nor in the Bill of Rights that prescribes that Americans bear an active responsibility for ensuring that others may pursue happiness as much as themselves. That responsibility is entirely passive in that they may not infringe upon the rights of others, for every man has equal rights which apply equally to every man.

Speaker Pelosi’s and President Obama’s reading of “the pursuit of happiness” is gravely misguided therefore. It is not the government’s place to better the people’s wellbeing. Indeed, another Founding Father, James Madison, stressed that, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.” Moreover, he pledged to resist any political effort to expend, “on objects of benevolence, the money of [the] constituents.”

What Speaker Pelosi, President Obama and many of today’s Democratic lawmakers evidently fail to comprehend is that the right to pursue happiness is no guarantee of happiness. The right to pursue happiness is not the same as a right to happiness.

This bill then does not “honor the vows of our Founders,” no matter what Speaker Pelosi may claim. It does not honor the traditions of the United States nor does it strengthen the American Dream. It is a perversion, in fact, of the political order so carefully designed by the Founding Fathers. To pretend that they would appreciate this effort is an obscenity.

Comments

  • Yes the current leaders of the democratic party are idealists that don’t care about the freedoms of the individual so long as they are exempt from the restraints they place on the common man.

    They spew so much deceit I think they must sincerely believe in their mission.

  • That’s the hard part: they do. The Democrats aren’t a bunch of nefarious hypocrites who are out to destroy the country. They are idealists, they are sincere and they believe very much that what they’re doing is good for the country.

  • But they are exempt from most of the laws they create either by literal exclusion or because of their accumulated wealth (much of which is enhanced by their positions). How can they not see their own blatant hypocrisy? I speak of the leaders of the party.

    I would definitely agree that the declared Democrats that I meet do believe in these ideals (although many do not specifically identify what these even are, a trait too familiar with the members of the Republican party as well). It seems that the party leaders would have to be somewhat reflective if they are educated and older adults. Then again, education does not equate thinking and reflection.

    At least economically how can they ignore some of the ironic indicators that their strategies are not sustainable: http://www.forbes.com/2010/02/25/democratic-states-bad-financial-shape-personal-finance-blue.html

    I guess they just blame whatever is the easiest; capitalism, business, consumers, etc. But isn’t that just living in denial? Not just living for themselves though, but forcing it on everyone else too!

  • This post is mistaken, Mr. Otten. You state that “The right is pursue happiness is ensured by freedom: freedom from coercion and restraint” and this is true; the governmental policies you decry are necessary to preserve freedom, because the “classical liberal” perspective did not envision the neoliberal corporatocracy. When corporations can influence elections far more than any one voter can, and their needs/wants set the labor market, one does not have the freedom to engage in the pursuit of happiness.

    What perverts “the political order so carefully designed by the Founding Fathers” is in fact the baleful influence of multinational agglomerations, which are enabled by confused people who venerate Smith and Bentham but ignore how their ideas were hostile to the kind of government/business collusion that faces the world today.

  • Even if what you’re saying is true, that corporations exert disproportionate political influence, I don’t see how health care reform is a means to challenge that.

    Wouldn’t the proper course of action be to limit the influence of lobbyists rather than pass legislation that attacks business on the whole? The blame here is on politicians, who let themselves be bribed into granting favors.

  • The only protection we have, if we assume politicians are corrupt, is limiting their involvement and authority in our lives.

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