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Obama’s Change: A Second Bill of Rights?

October 29, 2008

Are you ready to change the Constitution? Cass Sunstein, an adviser to Barack Obama, thinks it might be a good idea to add a Second Bill of Rights, an idea first promulgated by FDR in his 1944 State of the Union address:

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all–regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

While FDR is rightly considered a great President, its evident (to me at least!) that is fortuneate that these kind of positive rights have not been formally enacted as law, or God forbid, actually made part of the Constitution. It’s not that this kind of big government scheme is fundamentally unworkable; this kind of thinking, while having I think excellent motives and intentions, is deeply contrary to the Founder’s inent. In fact, it would be the triumph of the materialistic world-view over the spiritual moral our nation was founded on.

Consider these famous lines from the Declaration of Independence:

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.

This nation is founded on the belief that Rights come from the Creator. Not from the Government, and not from money. I’m still working my way through these issues, but it seems to me though that FDR suggested a “new basis” of “security and prosperity” based entirely deriving from money. While affirming that all the items enumerated above are worthy goals, to enshrine them as rights seems as unattainably lofty a goal as ever was imagined.

The danger lies in the temptation to believe in you Government more than your God; of course in an increasingly secular society that temptation wil eventually be seen as common sense- “self-evident” sense. All in the name of kindness. Here’s how the switch works, according to this reviewer of Sunstein’s book advocating for the Second Bill of Rights:

Mild-mannered University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein has been advancing the radical notion that all rights — including rights usually held to be “against” the state, such as the right to freedom of speech and the right not to be arbitrarily imprisoned or tortured — are grants from the state. In a book co-authored with Stephen Holmes, The Cost of Rights, he argued that “all legal rights are, or aspire to be, welfare rights,” that is, positive grants from the state. There is no difference in kind between the right not to be tortured and the right to taxpayer-subsidized dental care.

This radical reorienting of rights geared towards “redistributive change” is absolutely part of an Obama administration. Those that deny it are either propagandists or denying the truth to themselves.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Timmy C. permalink
    October 30, 2008 9:10 am

    First: I’d think it fair to ask of any criticisms of Sunstein: does Barack hold that view?

    But I know Sunstein’s writings well. And he’s really really not a good example to trot out to show “radicalism” of Obama supporters. He’s really not.

    But I guess they can’t trot out Obama supporter and advisers Warren Buffet, or Former Chairman of the Fed Reserve Volker as evidence, since they are still “fooled” and don’t yet see his secret socialism lurking.

    I like Sunstein’s political philosophy of the Court a LOT, and I’d think you would too. His view of the Court and the Constitution is very much a “minimalist.” And he criticizes judicial overreach, and overeach of putting public policy into the Constitution before the public debate at the people’s level is finished.

    For instance, although very much prochoice, he criticizes Roe as an overreach at it’s time: the judges going too far, too fast, beyond where the people were yet. He is a true believer that public policy should be best handled at the legislative level.

    Second: FDR, and Sunstein were speaking metaphorically… neither were talking about actually creating more articles to the Constitution.

    FDR referred to them “so to speak” as a second bill of rights. Here is Sunstein himself on that point:

    “Roosevelt did not argue that the Constitution should be amended to include the “Second Bill of Rights.” But he did believe that social and economic rights ought to be seen as a defining part of our political culture, closely akin to the Declaration of Independence — a place to look for our deepest commitments.”

    You can read a good article sized summary of his views on the metaphorical “Second Bill of Rights” here:

    Third: The whole final (?) line of attack by McCain that because Barack supports a federal taxes that he is a “redistributor” is his least effective attack so far I think.

    Barack’s tax policy of lowering taxes for almost everyone working has left him no way to call Barack a “tax raiser” so he can now only criticize him for being a “redistributor” I guess.

    But does allowing Bush’s tax cuts to revert back to Clinton levels then mean that Nixon was a Socialist for allowing higher tax rates?

    And did I miss something or doesn’t McCain support Federal income taxes to support schools in poor neighborhoods?

    On a more philosophical level, interesting to hash out if all the rights in the Constitution are “negative” or if they all ONLY refer to restricting the State.

    Here is Sunstein on that, from the earlier link:

    Consider the widespread view that democracies should respect “negative rights,” or rights against government interference, but should not acknowledge “positive rights,” or rights to government help. This view is tangled in a massive confusion, and for one simple reason: The so-called negative rights are rights to government help, too. To see the problem, begin with the two foundations of a market economy: private property and freedom of contract. Neither of these can be guaranteed by laissez-faire, because both require government assistance. Private property depends on property rights, which do not exist without government and law.”

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