Two fundamentally and diametrically opposed interpretations of the origin of American rights:
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……….—Second paragraph, The U. S. Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence discusses the problem of government in terms of a contract. Government is a relation of give and take, a contract, perforce, if we would follow out of which it grew. Under such a contract rulers were accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights. The task of statesmanship has always been the redefinition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.–Commonwealth Club Address, Franklin D. Roosevelt, September 23, 1932.
Much as Lincoln described in his “house divided” speech of 1858 as it pertained to slavery, the nation cannot continue half under one concept of the derivation of rights and half another, as represented by these two totally opposed interpretations; it will proceed all one or all the other.
FDR compounded the problem with his annual message to Congress in 1944, in which he outlined his “Second Bill of Rights”, adding wide-ranging rights to “security” to the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, which he described as inadequate without the underlying economic security in the new self-evident rights to a job, a home, a fair wage, education, and medical care.
Herein lies the conflict between the negative rights embodied in our Constitution, which prescribes limited and enumerated powers for government, versus the progressive notion of positive rights as expressed by FDR. This positive rights concept was recently suggested by Alan Blinder in the context of the health care debate when he writes, “Our country was founded on the idea that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable. Access to affordable health care is surely essential to two of these rights, maybe to all three”. This is the house divided in a nutshell.
The implications of this gross misunderstanding of our grounding reach into every public issue and, as I have previously suggested on this conflict of visions as with many other issues, we cannot be neutral–there is no “moderate”.