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.