The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


February 24, 2014

Herb Van Fleet, guest columnist: Hoping for ACA failure betrays American principles

TULSA, Okla. — During the 17th and 18th centuries, in a period of philosophic thought called the Enlightenment, the idea of natural rights was all the rage. With few exceptions, the philosophers of the day felt people were born with certain immutable rights and that the protection of these rights must be a condition of and integral to the establishment of a government.

The most influential proponent of this thinking was John Locke, who was also a doctor. Consider this from Locke in his “Second Treatise of Government” (1690): “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one; and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

In writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson borrowed heavily from Locke, coming up with this most familiar phrase: “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.”

Of course, the “all men” part is a little misleading. But the notion of political correctness was unknown back in 1776.

The Declaration was actually a list of complaints against England’s George III, used to justify our “separation,” as Jefferson put it, from the British Empire. But more importantly, the Declaration also set forth the political philosophy of a secular government, which was adopted by the founding fathers and became the raison d’etre for our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Abraham Lincoln referred to Jefferson’s words four score and seven years later in Gettysburg, Pa., saying, “our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and that, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

These words, along with their nexus to the Declaration of Independence, were memorialized in 1868 through the 14th Amendment, which provided for citizenship rights, due process and equal protection of the laws.

Our government was therefore founded on the principles of assuring and protecting the natural rights and the liberty interests of we the people. These, to me, are moral imperatives. And they are not for sale.

By extension then, our elected officials at all levels have a moral obligation (and perhaps a legal one as well) to assure that all Americans are afforded the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among others.

Now comes the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), including revisions to the Medicaid program that many states have considered and then implemented or rejected or, like Missouri, are still debating.

To the extent that lives are lost or the pursuit of happiness is compromised for any American due to the lack of health care, those elected officials responsible for but refusing to pass legislation that would ameliorate such suffering are thereby denying the rights promised to that citizen through the establishment of our democratic republic. They are, in effect, alienating those rights. And their allegiance to fundamental American values should be called into question.

Morality cannot be bought or sold. To the extent this is true, then the cost of health care is not an appropriate consideration for legislators at any level. On the contrary, their legal and moral obligation is to do whatever is needed to ensure the unalienable rights of the people are protected.

This is no different than the government’s obligation to keep the country safe from attacks by other nations or terrorists. Money is no object when it comes to protecting our freedom and liberty. Nor should it be when is comes to life and the pursuit of happiness.

So it’s way past time for the U.S. to join the rest of the developed nations in the world and ensure that universal health care is made available to all of its citizens. If we do, the sky will not fall, and the nation won’t devolve into a socialist state. I promise. After all, a healthy citizenry is a happy citizenry. And happy people tend to vote for those who helped make them so.

On that note, we should do all we can to make the Affordable Care Act the best it can be. Those who are trying to see it fail are betraying our country’s founding principles and driving us further away from the moral high ground.

HERB VAN FLEET, a former Joplin resident, lives in Tulsa, OKla. Contact him at

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