07/04/2012 12:29 pm ET | Updated Sep 03, 2012

The Ignored 'Next Sentence': "To Secure These Rights Governments Are Instituted Among Men"

Paul Ryan (R-WI), the architect of VoucherCare that seeks to rob the elderly of the medical care they have earned, claims that government cannot be a source of human rights that come only from "God and Nature."

Today, we will all unite and celebrate our freedom and our Declaration of Independence.
Tomorrow, we will return to fight the 2012 election that is shaping up as a clear contest between those who support the 99 percent versus those in the pocket of the one percent. A sub-theme will be the proper role of government in our society.

Today, we will all proudly proclaim our Founders' vision, that we "are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights," and that "among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

"Life" seems to bear some relationship to health care, does it not? If one has an attack of asthma, for example, and cannot breathe without a little shot of epinephrine (adrenalin), or a few puffs of inhaled steroids, does that not connect this inalienable right to health care? Or is this link just me being overly arrogant as a physician?

Or, take the "pursuit of happiness." If medicine can prevent a woman from her bones being riddled with breast cancer, isn't she more able to "pursue happiness" pain-free and with strong bones?

So, if we are indeed endowed by our Creator with rights to life and the pursuit of happiness, does that not tell us that one of the primary rights we need to secure is the health of each and every one of our citizens?

Ah, one says, but what about "liberty?" Suppose one prefers being ill or in pain. Is that not one's Creator-given right? OK, but that just means that no one should be able to force one to be treated, not that the right to be treated should be denied.

How is all this done? Actually, the Declaration tells us that too, but some elements of society choose to ignore it.

The very next sentence in the Declaration of Independence proclaims that "To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed." Governments? Please, say it ain't so.

Sorry Tea Partiers, but it is. The Founders, you see, were not opposed to all governments, just the one run by an absolute monarch.

And so, after the success of the revolution, they created a very weak central government. Now the Tea Partiers can rejoice.

Well, not exactly. That very weak central government under the "Articles of Confederation" did not work very well. Some idea of how poorly it worked can be gleaned from watching the European Union, also a weak central government of formerly independent states.

So, our Founders created a stronger central government, under the Constitution. The Preamble to that Constitution, the one that we have all signed up to live under, says that its purpose is to achieve defense, domestic peace, the preservation of liberty and justice and the general welfare.

The Declaration, it should be noted, did not think that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" defined the universe of our rights, but included the little qualifying phrase, "among these." So, the Founders, some of whom were also signers of the Declaration, undertook to create a government to "secure" other rights such as justice and the general welfare.

When we rejoice today about our independence, we should also celebrate our founders who had the good sense to recognize that, just because an absolute monarch does not enable "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," did not mean that they rejected all central authority and, when they found too weak of a central authority to be insufficient, they created a stronger one.

Two hundred twenty-five (225) years before Why Nations Fail was written, our brilliant Founders realized from experience that too weak a central authority did not create more prosperity or freedom, but instead a failed state.

In neither the Articles nor the Constitution did the founders stray from the principle, "deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed". Citizens United and the voter suppression laws pursued by Republican state legislators are not in that spirit.

Note that the signers of the Declaration claimed that it is the "powers" of the government being derived from the consent of the governed, not from a Creator, that make their exercise in specific actions "just."

Let us, today, celebrate both our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that to secure these rights we need government whose powers are based on the consent of the governed.

To do that we need fight to against the exclusive forces in society so that we can continue the strong central government that sets up inclusive political and economic institutions that has served us so well since World War II.

The signers of the Declaration would know exactly what that means.

Happy Independence Day to one and all!