Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan has proclaimed in at least one of his campaign speeches that it isn’t government’s place to give us rights. Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more. I suspect most people would. So who does he think is suggesting such a thing anyway?
I have to assume that somehow Ryan thinks somebody has. (A Democrat perhaps?)
Like too much in this too-often mendacious campaign, from both sides, it sounds good but it ain’t so. In this case, the suggestion is so subtle. And that makes it border on the dangerous.
Actually, the Declaration of Independence spells it out about as clearly as it is possible to do.
“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.”
In other words, the government has a duty to pass laws to protect those “unalienable Rights” and to create institutions to enforce those protections. And the people who pass those laws are elected by us, the citizens. If we don’t like ’em, we can send ’em home.
We’d do well to keep in mind nineteenth century historian Lord John Acton’s admonition. “All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
A strict and clear regulatory system is what stands between us and powerful predators. When it functions properly, it protects us from the blatantly unscrupulous or those who are able somehow to rationalize their misbehavior. Those motivated by a lust for power or money tend to be very competent at taking advantage. Big corporations that are short in the ethics department pay a lot of money for those who are champions at hidden scamming. How many of us really bother to read carefully the fine print in a contract or transaction? And even if we do, too often, it would take a genius to ferret out the cleverly hidden nuggets.
Government doesn’t always get it right. But more often than not, it’s due to laziness or outright incompetence rather than greed. It isn’t a perfect world. That’s why we have to pay attention and at least make the effort to stay informed — a pretty serious responsibility. That’s why we have to grit our teeth, pay close attention and question questionable claims and pronouncements from our public servants. It usually means doing a little research. Sometimes either the patience factor or boredom factor sabotage our best intentions.
I truly understand why so many of us, even the conscientious, laboring under the normal stresses and frustrations of daily life throw up our hands and look for the quick fix.
Sometimes I look around and I get scared. Because it could be argued that in some ways the future of the world rests on our diligence.
Libby Davis worked for the Rockdale Citizen for 20 years as publisher before retiring in 1997. She is also an award winning columnist and editorial writer and occasional contributor to Georgia Trend magazine.