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Opening Arguments

Liberty and equality

We've had an interesting debate on whether to nationalize health care going on in our guest columns the past few weeks. Today, Leonard Goldstein takes up the affirmative with what seems to me to be some very revealing remarks about his side of the political spectrum:

Next, he asks us to find authority for universal health care in the Constitution, as though every government activity is listed in our Constitution. Of course there is no reference there to UHC, but I call his attention to the preamble to this great document, which reads in part, “In order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare.” I submit that “promote the general welfare” would include the availability of health care for all Americans. I subscribe to Harvard Medical School professor Arnold Relman's position that “we need to accept the idea of health care as a social good rather than an economic commodity.”

But the Constitution was drafted by people who purposefully limited the federal government to only those few and specific powers enumerated in that document. That was the whole idea of this nation, in fact. And that intent has been subverted ever since by people who have stretched "general welfare" to cover just about anything. It's a sad fact that so many people such as Goldstein now pooh-pooh the very idea that something the federal government government does must actually be in the Constitution, but fact it is.

And he doesn't exactly come right out and say that health care should be a "right," but he gets pretty close with identifying it as a "social good, rather than an economic commodity." That gets to the heart of the real dispute, doesn't it?. "Rights" were once understood in a negative sense -- that is, a right was something either natural or God-given that government couldn't take away. Rights in that sense were the foundation of our liberty. "Rights" today are increasingly meant in the positive sense -- some good or service that must be supplied to us if we lack it. Rights in that sense are at the foundation of the movement for equality -- of results, not opportunity. And since we can't get a bigger share without taking away from someone else's share, such a claim of rights is anti-liberty at its core.


Jim Wetzel
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 11:29am

Three cheers, Mr. Morris -- I agree completely. Providing Americans with health insurance isn't one of the enumerated powers / duties of the federal government, and is thus explicitly prohibited by Amendment 10, and implicitly by, as you say, the whole organizing principle of the document. Now, where does that leave us on this small matter of federal government as the provider of Iraqi Freedom

Leo Morris
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 11:49am

I sort of lost heart on the whole constitutional issue back when Robert Bork, who was supposed to be the great literalist, testified before Congress that the 9th and 10 amendments were moot points not worth arguing about any longer. By my rough count, the United States has engaged in five wars duly declared by Congress, a dozen in which Congress authorized the action short of a formal declaration of war (including Vietnam, Iraq and the first Persian Gulf War) and more than 100 actions in which the president acted with no input from Congress at all (including Korea, for which Truman cited United Nations authority, but let's not even go there). In this area as in so many others, we have amended the Constitution by evading it.

tim zank
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 12:23pm

" Arnold Relman

tim zank
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 12:25pm

"Dissent will be dealt WITH harshly by Der Leader"....

sorry, gotta proofread better....

Kevin Knuth
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 12:56pm

If you want to take the constitution literally, then let's not let women or minorities vote either. the Founding Fathers did not find that important.

OR MAYBE, just maybe......they were smart guys, but not perfect. Did they have ANY clue what health care costs would be in 2009? Did they think it would be 11% of our economy?

Do YOU find it acceptable that many cannot afford proper health care?

If you don't want the federal government involved in healthcare, then let's do away with Medicare and Medicaid- you want to put that idea up for a vote?

Didn't think you would.

Leo Morris
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 2:08pm

There are lots of things I wouldn't want put to a vote. That's why I'm glad we still at least pay lip service to the concept of republicanism and a representative democracy. And those things you dislike seem to have disappeared by way of, guess what, constitutional amendments. If YOU want health care or digital TV or any other damn thing covered by the Constitution, then, by all means, work on an amendment. We are free to define constitutional requirements by our own standards where the Framers were a little vauge (not precisely defining "curel and unusual pushiment," for example). But if you just treat the founding principles as elastic suggestions, that's the same thing as having no princpiles at all, and be prepared to say, "THANK YOU, kind sir!" for every tiny morsel the tyrants let you have.

tim zank
Mon, 03/09/2009 - 4:37pm

Kevin sez: "If you want to take the constitution literally, then let

Michael B-P
Tue, 03/10/2009 - 8:15am

The hard truth contained in Goldstein's remarks is that medical treatment is indeed rationed whether by the private system here or the publicly funded systems in other countries. Moreover, if opponents of universal coverage in this country choose to abandon constitutionality as a basis for contesting the issue, then they also abandon the their strongest rational argument. To primary considerations, then, remain regarding the present system: (1) in the type of economy that the U.S. has, where employees frequently change jobs, does narrowly-pooled employer-based insurance sense, and (2) does society want be inevitably burdened by the financial devastation that a health catastrophe can impose on otherwise financially solvent families? Considering these two points, the status quo looks pretty dumb.

Kevin Knuth
Tue, 03/10/2009 - 8:55am


I am in the "middle class". And thanks to your GOP politics, I have less then when Clinton was in office.

Maybe that is why AMERICANS overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama to lead us.

Leo- You say we can define where the constitution is vague- but isn't that a matter of opnion as well?

tim zank
Tue, 03/10/2009 - 9:01am

Kevin, I find it hard to believe your income is actually less now per year than it was in the 1990's. You might want to check your records.

Bob G.
Tue, 03/10/2009 - 9:46am

((The Charlie Rangel School of Tax Compliance...?))

Tim's right (as are the founding documents of this nation)...you DO have the RIGHT to life, liberty and the "PURSUIT" of happiness (however YOU choose to define the word "pursue", within the limits of the law), but that should NEVER mean to "level the field" by punishing one half (the taxpayers) of the people to support the other half (the lazy-asses).

But all I have to do is look out my window to see the evidence of that already in place.