I developed a dislike for Franklin D. Roosevelt in high school because he was oversold by my history teachers. He was portrayed as a kind of canonized secular saint who had saved the nation and the world from the ghastly phenomena of the Depression and the Axis. Too young to judge FDR’s political accomplishments, what inculcated an unshakable suspicion in me was the tone with which FDR was uncritically presented by the teachers to my history classes. (They were still called “history” classes back then, not “social science.”) He could do no wrong, his intentions were unquestionably noble, he had sacrificed himself for the greater good, and to criticize him was to belabor the picayune and the arcane and reveal oneself as an ignorant, reactionary lowbrow. So it was also with JFK and Woodrow Wilson.
Of course, my real education began after leaving school and by not going on to college. I learned much, much more about FDR, JFK and Wilson without the benefit of teachers whose eyes would shine brightly in adulation when their names were mentioned and who would brook no disagreement (mostly with a sneering ad hominem), and maintained my status as a reactionary, but highly knowledgeable lowbrow.
Cass Sunstein’s eyes also shine brightly when he speaks or writes about FDR and President Barack Obama. Sunstein, former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (a post he left to return to Harvard Law School) had an op-ed on the Bloomberg View on January 28th, “Obama, FDR and the Second Bill of Rights.” In it he approves of, promulgates, and sells Obama’s alleged desire to establish that “Second Bill of Rights” while keeping the “old” Bill of Rights.
George Orwell noted in his Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four about the totalitarian take-over of language, in his novel called “Newspeak,” that a full translation of Jefferson words about “self-evident truths” from the Declaration of Independence [into Newspeak] “could only be an ideological translation, whereby Jefferson’s words would be changed into a panegyric on absolute government.”*
Sunstein’s article is such a panegyric on absolute government, written not in indecipherable Newspeak jargon, but in one in which certain terms are dropped into the text without justification or validation, and intended to allay the suspicion that a fast one was being pulled on the reader. Sunstein claims that FDR was not an enemy of capitalism, nor, he claims, is Obama, simply because Obama mentioned “free enterprise” in his inaugural address without making a face.
Sunstein pulls his own Newspeak shell game when he writes:
Drawing on Thomas Jefferson, Roosevelt insisted that “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.”
It is important to be clear about what FDR meant. He did not propose to amend the Constitution. He did not think that the Supreme Court should enforce the Second Bill of Rights. He believed in free markets and free enterprise; he had no interest in socialism.
What twaddle! Roosevelt did not believe in free markets. If he had believed in them, he would not have pushed for all the welfare legislation he did. He would not have tried to pack the Supreme Court with justices friendly to his economic and social welfare programs. He would have advocated getting the government out of the economy, beginning with the abolition of the income tax and the Federal Reserve System. Roosevelt took the side-door approach to socialism, as leftist/progressives do today, not calling it that, but instead the government’s “responsibility” to do something about all the government-caused and perpetuated problems and crises that existed in his time. So it is with Obama.
Except that Obama is a nihilist whose agenda on the surface appears to be fascist or “national socialist,” but which fundamentally is geared for destruction for destruction’s sake in the name of “transforming” the country.
But, what are rights? Novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand wrote:
A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life….The concept of a “right” pertains only to action-specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.**
Let us look at and analyze Roosevelt’s schedule of “rights,” a list he included in his 1944 State of the Union address and which Sunstein cited as a model on which Obama and Congress might create a “Second Bill of Rights.” Roosevelt prefaced his address with a statement which contradicted what followed:
“This nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery. We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.” (Emphasis mine.)
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
Well, where does this “right” come from? If you, the individual, exist, then that somehow automatically entitles you to a job. Your mere existence creates the “right” to someone else’s property, money, or livelihood. Conversely, owners of industries, shops, farms and mines have a “duty” to provide you with that job. This is a formula for mutual slavery, not trade. In the leftist/progressive or cultural Marxist political agenda, “rights” are not validated on man’s nature as a being of volitional consciousness who must establish his own values and pursue them without physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men, and without resorting to force, but privileges that emanate from society and are doled out by the state acting for society. Your metaphysical existence is accepted as a cipher of society, but rejected as a free, independent individual.
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
Who is to determine what is “enough” to provide food, clothing and recreation? A government bureau or agency or department, staffed by individuals who assume the infallibility of the Pope and the omniscience of a deity? Who is to determine what is “adequate”? The same bureaucrats and regulatory “czars.” And if producers refuse to “provide” these things, what then?
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
Who is to determine that “rate of return,” and by what measure can “a decent living” be established? Again, government bureaus and agencies are the arbiters. Between 1995 and 2011 government farm subsidies ran to $277 billion to growers of everything from corn to dairy products to tobacco to sunflowers.
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.
An “atmosphere of freedom,” to Roosevelt and his economic managers and regulators, meant punishing the successful for putting the unsuccessful out of business with laws against “unfair” competition. Who defines “unfair”? Lobbyists for industries and businesses jeopardized by the successful, who press Congress to save their skins with laws and regulations that amount to physical compulsion, coercion and interference. “This business is under-selling its widgets for $1.50 retail, and I don’t want to think about its wholesale rates! I can only sell my widgets for $2.50, because of unforeseen conditions and economic down-turns. This isn’t fair! I have a right to succeed, and this other business is trying to monopolize the trade! Do something, and I’ll foot the bill for you for a trip to Bermuda, all expenses paid.”
In a fully capitalist economy, this lobbyist would be out of luck and have to successfully compete against the other company or fold, and the congressman would be stymied by a new amendment in the Constitution that would prohibit any abridgement of trade. In a mixed economy, legally-enforced monopolies are government-created monopolies, either run by the government or regulated by it.
Remember General Motors? It, too, was saved from dissolution by government compulsion, coercion, and interference, chiefly to save its unions’ “entitlements.”
The right of every family to a decent home.
Shall I mention the subprime mortgage melt-town and TARP? The Federal Reserve and Treasury Department and other government agencies encouraged and often compelled banks and financial institutions to underwrite everyone’s “right” to a “decent home.” That house of cards collapsed. When it collapsed, who paid for the rescues and the lost billions? American taxpayers through direct taxation and inflation, which is a form of tax, to the tune of billions of dollars.
Who defines a “decent home”? Any government agency and NGO from the Department of Health and Human Services to your local community organizing racket and municipal housing authority.
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
This “right” was achieved incrementally with Medicare and Medicaid programs and climaxed with Obamacare (aka The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). All the alleged benefits of this compulsory legislation accrue to the compulsorily insured citizen at the expense of the indentured servitude of doctors, surgeons, and other medical professionals, many of whom are leaving their careers in protest to the servitude. In the legislation, the predictable consequences of doctors abandoning their careers in such a protest, such as a shortage of doctors to act as “health providers,” there is nothing in it that prohibits the government from drafting retired doctors (regardless of their ages) into “service.”
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.
This is Social Security and all disability and unemployment legislation ever passed by Congress, which costs billions of dollars and are called, not “rights,” but “entitlements,” because everyone has been compelled to pay into the system. But the retirees of today are getting more for their confiscated money than younger, still-working adults will ever see in the way of their own “entitlements.” Post-WWII “baby boomers” are the most fortunate recipients of their “entitlements.” Their sons and daughters will not be so fortunate. They’ll be expected to pay in more and get less.
The right to a good education.
What is a “good education,” and why does anyone have a right to one? There’s really no answer. The right is picked out of the ethereal realms of leftist/progressive political philosophy. The Department of Education spends about $30 billion a year on subsidies, the “bulk of that funding goes toward student aid programs, with the balance going toward grants to educational institutions.” For all the billions spent on education, from nursery schools on up to graduate schools, America has been dumbed down and brainwashed and “socially conditioned” to “serve” society, to “give back.”
Every Roosevelt-Sunstein “right” cited above is plank in a socialist program. Every one of them has been legislated for, with the right to “adequate medical care” represented by Obamacare.
Sunstein winds up his article with:
Obama’s second inaugural did not refer explicitly to the Second Bill of Rights, but it had an unmistakably Rooseveltian flavor. Just after a serious economic crisis, Obama emphasized “that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.” Recalling Roosevelt’s central theme, Obama said that “every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.”
I have news for Mr. Sunstein: There is no dignity in servitude and being chained to one’s fellow men, and even less security. But, I think he knows that. He doesn’t need to be told. Sunstein, too, is a practicing nihilist.
A “Second Bill of Rights” would render the original Bill of Rights redundant and superfluous. It would be supplanted with a list of state-dispensed privileges. It should be called instead a “Manifesto of Entitlements for the Hoi Polloi.”
*Appendix, “The Principles of Newspeak,” Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. Ed. by Irving Howe. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. P. 205.
**”Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades leading up to the American Revolution, and also of Whisper the Guns and First Prize. His essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason and The Dougout.