No, They Aren’t ‘Rights’

Posted: February 2, 2013

In a piece for Bloomberg News this week, Cass Sunstein, the White House’s favorite liberal lawyer and former member of the Obama administration, maintained that President Obama, in his second inaugural address, eagerly and wilfully channeled FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights ,” promulgated in 1944.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear. This second iteration is nothing like the grand original — which was, if anything, a reaffirmation of the “unalienable rights” asserted by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and, thereby, a check on government power. It listed freedoms that government could not abridge or undermine. It’s definitely a limiting document that restricts government’s reach.

By contrast, FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights” is a recipe for government action on behalf of individual people, even though Mr. Roosevelt did not explicitly say so. The “rights” listed are not rights in the Jeffersonian or Madisonian sense, but more like entitlements.

Among them were the right to a “remunerative” job, the right to earn enough money for “food, shelter, and recreation,” the right to a “decent” home, the right to “adequate” medical care and the opportunity for good health, the right to “adequate” protection from the fears of old age, sickness, and unemployment, and the right to a good education.”

The crux of it all: No matter a person’s talents, proclivities, inner drive, or choices, some entity must serve as guarantor of these “rights” — if only, FDR discordantly said, to preserve “individual freedom.”

Asking what entity but government guarantees these “rights” might explain the nation’s path these past 75 years — and why Barack Obama wants more of the same.

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