Monday, February 11, 2008

A Declaration for 21st Century America

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- From the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

Judging from some of the ongoing political discussion, these truths are not self-evident. All men (and women) are only created equal if the size of their bank account measures up. I don't begrudge a person getting rich, but how much is enough?

For one of the two political parties, it seems there is never enough. Nor does it seem that this party agrees with the Declaration of Independence's assertion regarding those pesky "unalienable rights." You know, those rights that are not to be taken away.

Each year, the gap between rich and poor widens and not only in terms of income. As the income gap grows, so, too, does the number of Americans with no health insurance: 47-million at last count. Yet only one political party seems ready to try something other than what the country is doing now.

The Democrats have proposed Universal Health Care while the Republicans say the marketplace should provide the solution. It hasn't done so yet; why think it will now? Private solutions, the G.O.P. insists. Those 47-million uninsured Americans are suddenly supposed to find the money they did not have before in order to pay for insurance?

Surely not even the Republicans believe all 47-million of these people are lazy deadbeats who could afford insurance if they would simply go out and get a job. Perhaps they would do well to remember those "unalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and to think about what they might actually mean.

The unalienable right to life as stated in the Declaration does not merely mean the right to keep breathing. In the context of the Declaration, it means something closer to the right to a decent quality of life. It seems to me that part of that quality of life should and must include health care.

Now to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is a person truly free or free to pursue happiness if the threat of catastrophic illness and exorbitant health care costs is hanging over their head?

Yet the Republicans argue that Universal Health Care, in the hands of the government is a wasteful and inefficient idea. Inefficient? Perhaps. But it seems to me that health is too important and too basic to be a for-profit concern.So, pardon me if I prefer inefficient yet fair to efficient and exclusionary, based on income and/or health.

Perhaps the answer is something in-between private enterprise and government-sponsored health care. I do believe the government needs to step up and step in to provide health insurance for those people who could not otherwise afford it: small business employees, the self-employed, low-income workers, and so forth. Higher-paid employees and other professionals, as well as upper-income Americans, would be free to pursue other insurance options.

Only by ensuring that all Americans have equal access to affordable health care can we ensure that America lives up to the preamble of its founding document and truly gives each and everyone of us the unalienable right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

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