Our Inalienable Right to Healthcare

by Derrick G. Jeter

Universal healthcare in the United States has been in and out of the political hospital more than Dr. House has been in and out of a patient’s room. One minute it looks as if a bill will walk out of Congress and mosey down Pennsylvania Avenue, have tea with the president and emerge as law. At other moments it appears as if it is on life support with everyone in agreement that we should let it die a dignified death; this was particularly true when the Republican Scott Brown won the senate seat once held by ultra-liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy.

But it looks as if funeral arrangements may have been premature. Obama, over the past couple of weeks, has been pushing hard to win popular support—with very little success, I might add. Meanwhile, Congress is cajoling, arm-twisting, horse trading, and threatening Democratic lawmakers to get behind the $1 trillion plus healthcare bill and pass it as soon as possible.

Where it stands now, it’s hard to determine whether the patient is going to recover or expire.

Watching the maneuverings on this issue brought back a frightful memory during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama said, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” [1] Universal healthcare would do just that—fundamentally transform America . . . into a quasi-European socialist state. Early in the campaign I called Barack Obama a socialist because he was advocating the redistribution of wealth. Turning control of healthcare over to the federal government fits nicely within his political philosophy because it will help accomplish his goal of redistribution.

While Obama’s rhetoric was troubling in 2008, for those who had ears to hear what he was truly saying, just as troubling, if not more so, were more recent comments made by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Unfortunately, Harkin’s comments were not widely broadcast. On December 23, 2009, Harkin, back by a gang of like-minded senators, said about the upcoming healthcare vote (which passed in the Senate, 60–39, the following day):

What this [senate healthcare] bill does is we finally take that step, as our leader said earlier, we take that step from healthcare as a privilege to healthcare as an inalienable right of every singe American citizen. . . . Like every right that we’ve ever passed for the American people we revisit it later on to enhance and build on those rights. And we will do that here, surely, that we will enhance and build on this, but we have made that first and most important step: to make it a right rather than a privilege. [2]

Did I hear the senator correctly? With the passage of the senate bill, healthcare magically was transformed from a “privilege” to an “inalienable right”? How does that happen? And in what ways is healthcare “inalienable,” given the fact that Congress, by Harkin’s logic, can simple pass them, apparently, willy-nilly? One must assume that if Congress has the power to confer the status of “right” to what once was a mere privilege then Congress can take that right away by passing another bill, making healthcare something less than “inalienable.”

Perhaps Tom Harkin doesn’t understand the meaning of the words “inalienable” and “rights.” Or perhaps he thinks the American people are a bunch of dopes. Maybe the poor senator has been in Congress so long he can no longer remember the truths found in our founding documents. Let me help here with just one brief quote from the Declaration of Independence. (Commentary added—I wouldn’t want to confuse the senator.)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created by equal, that they are endowed by their Creator [not Congress] with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness [not healthcare]. That to secure [not to grant] these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just [not arbitrary] powers from the consent of the governed.

There—the language seems simple enough. God grants rights that no government can take away—they’re “unalienable.” Nary a word, however, was said about Congress granting rights. Curious.

Perhaps Senator Harkin should read the Declaration again . . . slowly. In fact, it might be a good idea for everyone who swears to uphold, “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” from the president on down, to take a refresher course in American civics. Most of them seem to have forgotten (or do they simply ignore?) the basics of the American philosophy—namely that God is the only authority with the power to confer “inalienable rights.”

Who knew, when we, the people, elected these mere mortals to Congress that they had the authority to promote themselves? I wasn’t even aware there was a vacancy in the halls of heaven.

[1] Barack Obama, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvJJP9AYgqU&feature=related (accessed March 15, 2010).

[2] Tom Harkin, http://www.c-span.org/Watch/Media/2009/12/23/HP/A/27716/Senate+Democrats+Press+Conference+on+Health+Care+Legislation.aspx, starting at 13:35 (accessed March 15, 2010).