Returning to the Essence: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I keep on returning to the word of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin when setting the tone for the Declaration of Independence and the essence of what this new nation was going to be about: “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.”  These are not original ideas but they so encapsulate the vision the 2nd Continental Congress had in mind for the United States when later writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights amendments.  Anything else seems superfluous.

That phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” should be used as the litmus test for any law that is enacted by Congress.  If it has no direct relevance to this phrase then it should not become law.  So much wrangling that goes on in Congress today has little relevance to this vision for our nation.  Republicans want a smaller government and more money for the military.  Democrats want more money spent on welfare and more regulation.  Of course there is the catchall “…that among these are…” implying that there are likely more Rights as later incorporated and elaborated in the Bill of Rights.  But the spirit set forth by the phrase “all men are… endowed with certain unalienable Rights… Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is unmistakable.

It is unfortunate that so much about our government and legislation is about promoting self-interests.  I think the founding fathers intended this nation to be based upon common interests instead of self-interests but this goes contrary to our current self-centric nature which has corrupted our interpretation of the Bill of Rights.  Thus we now interpret the Declaration of Independence as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that most men are created to be subservient by the few, that the few are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Power, Wealth and the domination over the many.”

Prime examples of such interpretive corruptions are two Supreme Court rulings (see Free Expression by Personal Wealth) in the case of Citizens United vs. FEC that ruled that corporations could make contributions to political campaigns similar to ordinary citizens and McCutcheon v. FEC that recently ruled that a single donor can give up to $3.6 million in one election cycle.  These two rulings have in essence empowered very rich corporations and individuals to make enormous political contributions to influence election outcomes in favor of their self-interests by supporting very expensive political ads to overwhelm the opponents.  If our founding fathers were to teletransport to this century I think that they would be shocked to hear that political contributions were part of free speech.  I also feel that they would be further shocked to hear that political contributions far in excess of what 95% of people possessed was also part of free speech giving a huge advantage of a few very rich individuals over the rest of the population to publicize their favorite candidates.  So the few rich and powerful have a disproportionate influence on elections as well as control of our government which should represent the interests of all.

I am convinced that this nation was founded on the principle of fair rights and treatment for the vast majority of citizens not primarily the nobility and royalty of the rich.  For this government to grant special privileges and power to those who are exceedingly wealthy goes against the original vision of this nation which rebelled and gained its independence from a government which gave the rich noble and royalty almost godlike powers to do as they pleased.  This nation was founded to prevent the pitfalls of such an aristocratic government and class distinctioning society.  This nation was founded on the principle that all, regardless of financial status, had Equal rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“.

It is clear that the rich and powerful have far more Rights than the common person.  It takes a lot of money for legal fees to defend one’s rights against the abuses of the rich, which most of us do not have.  So rich corporations and individuals can do virtually as they please and the average citizen has little financial recourse to launch a legal defense for their rights.  That is why many large corporations are able to pollute with impunity.  The movie “Erin Brockovich” is an example of how powerless people were against pollution from PG&E until Brockovich stubbornly made a case after much time and heroic efforts.  But how many people have an Erin Brockovich to help them?

As the rich become more powerful with even more rights, they become even more wealthy and able to pursue happiness at everyone else expense, but to what ends?  For the very rich money ceases to have much value since they have so abundantly much of it, so why need more?  The more they have the less everyone else has since there is a finite amount of money.  Is that their goal, to make everyone else have less by grabbing it all to themselves?  Has money become their religion since it serves no other tangible purpose?

This nation of laws need to better reflect the vision that the founding fathers incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights before it turns once again into a nation of feudalism from which it extracted itself almost 250 years ago.

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