Recently, the left has sought to change the way we discuss entitlements. No longer should these benefits provided to certain groups be discussed as entitlements, they are rights. But, what does the change in semantics actually mean?
From a constitutional perspective, a right is something that is universally applicable to all Americans, does not require the actions of others to enact, and in exercising a right, the rights of others cannot be infringed upon. These key characteristics of a right should be used to measure what comes out of Congress as a right.
Let’s apply this criteria to some important amendments in the Bill of Rights. The first amendment, freedom of Speech and religion, has the characteristics of a right as it is written. It simply prevents the passage of laws that would limit the exercise of religion, speech, assembly, and redress of grievances. Nowhere in first amendment does it permit Congress to force free speech to be “fair” by enacting legislation to balance what is published, spoken, or transmitted nor does it require the actions of anyone to provide us with mechanisms through which we can exercise this right. It would be unimaginable to believe that the government should pay for a stadium so that a group could freely assemble, wouldn’t it?
The same principals could be applied to the second amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. Again, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed“. As a right, Americans may purchase and posses guns. It does not entitle citizens to a gun. In other words, the government is not responsible to give a gun to every American or supply them with ammunition or accessories. This is a fundamental principal when discussing entitlements as rights. Rights are something that cannot be infringed, but they are not something that is guaranteed to be provided.
Is retirement a right? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that the government should supply it. We have Social Security (until it goes broke in 2037) which is an entitlement. Retirement is actually an extension of our right to life and perhaps pursuit of happiness. That means that we can work to retire any way we choose. It does not mean that the government is required to plan our retirement for us. In effect, Social Security is infringing on the rights of those that would prefer to retire without government intervention. The social security taxation that is law may prevent such persons from using the same money to alternatively fund their preferred retirement vehicle.
Health care as a right? Again, this is more of an extension of the right to life. The problem with saying that universal health care is a right, is that it infringes upon the rights of those that would not choose to have their health care provided for by the government. You cannot enact a right that infringes upon or limits the rights of others. It also should not require action on the part of another. Universal health care would require all Americans to enroll in the plan or pay penalties (2% of gross annual income). This is where single-payer, universal coverage, and the public option lose ground. They are infringing on the rights of over 240 million to provide an entitlement to less than 30 million (a majority of whom may not want it or may not even be citizens).
Liberals, by ideology, favor the empowerment of a central government. Turning entitlements into rights does more than simply empowering the government. It also creates a dependency where the entitled now require the actions of the provider of the entitlement to enjoy the rights they already possessed. This releases the entitled citizen from having to be responsible for their own rights, and gives that responsibility and therefor authority to someone else – the government.
To enjoy rights, Americans should learn that what they are and what responsibilities come with them. We should understand our rights and take actions to insure our own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If we were more responsible for our own rights, we would need far less “help” from the government. Perhaps the inverse is also true – if the government were less involved in the provision of our rights, individuals would have to be far more responsible to insure them.