Obama, FDR and the Second Bill of Rights
By Cass R. Sunstein | January 28, 2013
As the actions of his first term made clear, and as his second inaugural address declared, President Barack Obama is committed to a distinctive vision of American government. It emphasizes the importance of free enterprise, and firmly rejects “equality of result,” but it is simultaneously committed to ensuring both fair opportunity and decent security for all.
Not really. Obama made it clear that he believes government is the solution to all of our problems. And that is why he is going to give us more of it.
In these respects, Obama is updating Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights. To be sure, his second term has barely started, and his precise place in history remains to be established. Yet we can’t appreciate the arc of American politics, or the nation’s current situation and prospects, without understanding the Second Bill.
And to think back in October 2008 we were mocked for noting that Obama’s campaign operatives like Marcy Kaptur were talking about this ‘Second Bill Of Rights’ during the 2008 campaign, and predicting that Obama would try to implement it.
Roosevelt announced the Second Bill of Rights in his State of the Union address in 1944. With the Great Depression over, and the war almost won, FDR declared that we “have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”
This is what is now called ‘social justice’ and ‘fairness.’
Drawing on Thomas Jefferson, Roosevelt insisted that “these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident.
Which sure beats having to make a rational argument for them.
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.”
The Rights then he listed them:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
Unless you are a non-union worker in a state that doesn’t have right to work laws.
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
And the right to free food and clothing if you can’t. And, thanks to your EBT card, free recreation at casinos and strip joints in Vegas.
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
AKA government price supports.
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.
Unless that monopoly is a friend of the administration, like Google.
The right of every family to a decent home.
Hence, ‘free’ government housing.
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
Hence the tax on the uninsured brought to you by Obama-Care.
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.
Hence, Obama’s efforts to defund Social Security through the payroll tax holiday. And his taking of at least $700 billion from Medicare for Obama-Care.
The right to a good education.
And never mind that unions prevent bad teachers from ever being fired or even tested.
“All of these rights,” Roosevelt said, “spell security.” He added, “I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights — for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do.”
If the words of our founders are to be ignored, why should we care about the words of some long dead President?
It is important to be clear about what FDR meant. He did not propose to amend the Constitution.
In other words, FDR didn’t want this done out in the open through legislation by the representatives of the people. He wanted to do it through the back door, through executive action. And Obama feels the same way.
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.
Oh, our sides. If FDR wasn’t a socialist he was the only person in his administration who wasn’t.
The nation’s wheelchair-bound president hardly thought that the national government could eliminate sickness, accident, unemployment or homelessness. He did not mean that every American was necessarily entitled to a job; he did mean that the national government would commit itself to promoting economic conditions that would reduce unemployment. This was a political speech, not a lawyer’s document.
But Obama isn’t committed to promoting economic conditions that would reduce unemployment. Or we wouldn’t have so many new regulations or Obama-Care or amnesty.
Roosevelt’s purpose was to give a fresh account of the nation’s defining aspirations. With the idea of security at its foundation, and with an insistence on fair opportunity, the Second Bill was meant to specify the goals of postwar America, hardened by its emergence from an economic crisis and its imminent victory in World War II. With the Second Bill of Rights, the leader of the Greatest Generation sought to cement his legacy. And while Roosevelt said that it was Congress’s responsibility to carry out the Second Bill, of course it did not do so, though various presidents and Congresses have taken significant steps (including Medicare and Medicaid) in this direction.
What has not been accomplished on FDR’s laundry list? In fact, it has all come to pass. But, of course, Obama and the rest of the Left will never be satisfied.
In his first term, Obama took more such steps. The most visible, of course, is the Affordable Care Act, which goes a long way toward safeguarding “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.”
Actually, what it mostly does is tax people who don’t have insurance.
Expansion of the earned income tax credit, designed to assist the working poor, is helping to give people “enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.” Efforts to extend unemployment insurance have softened the impact of the recession. The Race to the Top program, alongside numerous other reforms, is improving education for millions of Americans.
To read the full article click HERE