“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.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Declaration of Independence.
Conservatives like to claim that government doesn’t give us our rights, that our rights come from God. That is true, in one sense, but throughout history, just because someone should have certain rights doesn’t mean they will actually enjoy those rights. Just ask American slaves prior to the Civil War, or African-Americans who suffered under Jim Crow laws after the Civil War. One major reason for the existence of government is to secure the rights we should all enjoy.
The Declaration of Independence lists three rights everyone should possess. They are pretty basic: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In today’s America, can everyone access these rights? If not, what should government do about it?
Life: Republicans say they are the “pro-life” party, but they are actually just anti-abortion. They are pro-wars of choice, which are very costly, while being anti-social safety net. They cut programs such as WIC (food for Women, Infants and Children), food stamps, and prenatal health care. They vote to shut down subsidized school lunch programs, apparently believing children should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If a child survives birth and has enough to eat, we then get to worry about him getting shot. Since the massacre at Newtown, Conn., there have been, by one measure, 74 school shootings. Even if the number is lower, there shouldn’t have been any. Republican leaders oppose popular common sense laws such as universal background checks and limited magazines. Pro-gun trumps pro-life.
The environment is also becoming more dangerous. With fracking and oil pipeline spills contaminating our water, and air pollution laws being gutted, I’m not sure what we are supposed to drink or breathe. I haven’t heard the Republican answer to that.
Liberty: Thousands of people are being stripped of their voting rights by Republican state governments. Meanwhile, Tea Party members march, wave flags and carry signs complaining that they are losing their freedoms. One man even waved a Confederate flag in front of the White House during a protest; no one stopped him. Gov. Bobby Jindal, R- La., called for a “hostile takeover” of Washington D.C. He wasn’t arrested for sedition. These protesters shout about how they are being silenced, and never understand the irony.
Right-wing leaders stir up ideas of revolution and violence, without clarifying what freedoms they think they are losing. When followers take these ideas to their logical conclusion, shooting people in the name of freedom, the right-wing denies its own words. True liberty includes responsibility for one’s words and actions, a concept apparently too hard for these people to grasp.
Pursuit of Happiness: Under Reaganomics, the American Dream is dying. Worker productivity has increased steadily, while wages have remained stagnant for over 30 years. CEO compensation is astronomical, while workers need government aid just to survive.
Income inequality is the worst since the Great Depression and is comparable to a Third World country. Loosely regulated capitalism and corporate influence are resulting in economic oppression for too many people. French novelist Anatole France summed it up this way: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” This is the one-sided equality the Republicans seek.
Upward social mobility is harder in America than in countries such as Denmark, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Norway, countries considered more “socialist” than America. These countries’ citizens rate themselves happier than Americans do. When people can make a living wage without working themselves to death, and can see hope that their children will have a successful life, that makes people happy. These basic rights are becoming scarce in America.
Adequate food, education, health care, and the prospect of a satisfying job are ingredients for life that everyone should be able to achieve. If we don’t change the prevailing political direction of the last 30 years, the pursuit of happiness our founders envisioned will become a fading dream. The America they visualized will be lost. This Independence Day, let’s remember their vision; let’s remember what our forefathers fought and died for — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Happy Fourth of July!
Jeanette Strong is an LVN columnist whose column appears every other week. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.