This summer I read The Vineyard of Liberty by James MacGregor Burns. Starting with Shays Rebellion the first volume of his work tracks the changes in attitudes and laws which impact how our nation viewed and dealt with evolving conceptions of freedom and equality. The one thing that becomes very clear early in the history of this nation is that nothing is static when it comes to these matters.
So I when I read that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson told a group of high school students health care was not a right in this nation, but instead a privilege, I had to seek out a second reporting source to see if in indeed this was an accurate statement. Surely it could not be a reflection of how Johnson feels. But in short order I was able to determine he had indeed uttered those words.
We all can admit the larger question about rights, and how they come to be viewed as such, is a proper one to be addressed and debated in a classroom. It is a thought-provoking topic. But history underscores again and again how the nation is always advancing and making for a more just and equitable place to live. New rights are secured in each generation and they have dramatic impact on society.
Without the right to privacy, as an example, which the Supreme Court ruled was a constitutional precept; gay men and women would not have the fuller scope of legal rights and freedoms that are now accepted by large majorities in the country. Johnson told the students “What we have as rights is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I strongly suspect that most readers here—and citizens everywhere—would place being healthy and able to access health care as a vital link to their life and the pursuit of happiness. It appears Johnson would have those students believe that unless a word or phrase, such as health care, is found in the Constitution there is no way to now place it as a right.
Time and again Burns makes a point in his book that Johnson needs to ponder at length before again speaking on the matter. During a trip to D.C. this year I viewed—with real emotion–The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Founders did not provide depth of clarity to each and every issue or national concern. Even if they had the late 18th century would not be the place for us to seek answers to the complexity of the world we live in. What they did provide is a process for us to use, and a path to follow as we work to achieve a more perfect union. There was not a desire from the Framers to limit progress or national maturity. In fact, it was quite the opposite. They wished to see this new and experimental nation grow and adapt as they had done while meeting in Philadelphia.
Perhaps the student who asked Johnson the question last week should have asked a follow up. How did the senator feel about health care as a moral issue? After all, if Johnson could not find a right for it in the Constitution there is one spelled out in the Bible. Matthew 10:8 from the International Version of the Bible reads as follows.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
There is no way that a decent society rations out who gets health care by whether one is employed, or insured, or financially able. In the end the right to health care comes from the bonds of shared humanity. We either are all in this together, or we are reduced to the level of the animal kingdom where the strongest survive, and the herd leaves the weak to die alone in the tall grass to be devoured by scavengers.
As some rant and rave about the cost and politics of health care might it not be best to get back to the basics of what our guiding moral principles should be regarding the health treatment of our fellow citizens? And was not virtue a guiding desire of the Framers who penned the Constitution?
Yes, Senator Johnson, health care is a right.