Yes, and no. How we answer depends a great deal on what we mean by “right.” The key difference in this issue, as with most issues is this. A right can be that which sound ethics requires that no one take away from me. Our forefathers, for instance, argued that we have an inalienable right to keep and bear arms. It would be wrong for the state, or my neighbor, to take from me any of my guns. Or, on the other hand, too often a right is understood as that which others have an obligation to provide for me. Taking the second amendment here, I doubt anyone would argue that my right to keep and bear arms means that the state has the right to tax you in order to pay for me to have a gun. Politically speaking, in other words, rights rightly understood are more about what the state may not do to restrain me than they are about what the state must provide me.
Do I, for instance, have a right to high speed internet access? A cell phone? I hope we can all agree that the state would be wrong to forbid me to have these things. In that sense these things are within my rights. On the other hand, I hope we haven’t yet sunk so deeply into an entitlement mindset that any of you would suggest that the state has an obligation to provide any of these things for me. I do have high speed internet of a sort. I have satellite, which is slow and unwieldy, but purportedly better than dial-up. No other option reaches this far into the sticks where I live and work. I also have a cell phone, the kind you get for free when you sign up for service. I don’t have an iphone because I can’t afford one. Is it right that some people should have iphones, while I have to actually push real buttons on my phone? Is it right that some people can download fresh information from E-bay faster than me, and so can beat me in auctions? Of course it’s right and fair.
Health care, though, that’s not a luxury is it? Aren’t we all due the basic necessities? No, we’re not. Where, I wonder, would one find in the Bible, or in the Constitution, anything that suggests that the state has the right to tax my neighbor in order to provide health care for me? Or more basic still, food for me? Why then are we debating this at all? Every member of Congress, and the President of theseUnited States, swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Every professing Christian recognizes the Bible as our alone ultimate authority. So again, why the debate?
Because when we want something and can’t afford it, we’re quite content to ask the government to tax others to pay for it. How many heroes of capitalism at sundry Town Hall meetings, waiving the flags of our fathers, receive checks from the government? How many of them are already on socialized health care with Medicaid? How many supported President Bush who gave us socialized pills for old folks? How many received help from the feds on their mortgage, or in sending their children to college? How many of them avail themselves of socialized education, the government school system? No, this debate isn’t about freedom versus tyranny. It is instead about one group of socialists dickering with another group of socialists about who will receive what piece of the pie that was wrongly stolen from others. All because we’re so wrong about rights.