What’s Going On: July 4th: A time reflect on fundamental rights

Do you like oddities?

Here’s an oddity: The number 243 is a prime number, divisible by three. Thursday, our country will celebrate its 243rd Independence Day, dating back to 1776. It’s genuinely a Prime Independence Day.

Here’s another oddity: A week before we celebrate that Prime Independence Day, the second round of the opening Democratic Presidential debates took place with lots of chatter about our “fundamental rights.”

With 10 candidates per night, we got our first glimpse at the Democratic field that will try to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020. And if last week’s debates were any indicator, it’s going to be a circus watching the Democrats winnow away the chaff and pick their top choice for the general election.

That’s another oddity: 20 candidates in a presidential debate. The introductions, especially on the second night, reminded me of a reality show. “He’s a former tech executive born in Schenectedy, New York, she’s a renowned author from California and he’s the mayor of a small town in Indiana.”

But you know what? While 20 candidates is about 15 too many, it’s absolutely a fundamental right for anyone and everyone to make a run at the top office in the land. That ability to run for any elected office is essential to our form of self-government and as such, is a fundamental right each American enjoys.

This country was founded on that right, along with the right to complain about the government (or anything else) in written or spoken form, the right to attend (or not attend) the church of your choice, the right to vote, the right to own property, and fundamentally, the right to pursue happiness. Those are the cornerstones of the country and democracy we celebrate.

Those … are fundamental rights.

Since 1776 though, our society has changed. It’s developed at the very least. Some would argue it’s evolved, others wouldn’t.

Regardless, as society changed so has the public’s perception and expectations of fundamental rights, such as a basic education. Over the course of the last 150 years, we as a society have widely embraced and accepted the model of the government levying taxes in order to provide a basic education. Our expectations regarding the extent of that education have also changed from sixth, to eighth, to 12th grade for all students, even farm boys.

During the debates, some of the leading Democrats, specifically Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, made their separate pitches to continue extending that expectation of government-funded education through college.

A college education has become our newest … fundamental right.

Another recently (last 20 years) emerging “fundamental right” is health care. When this country started 243 years ago, access to a doctor wasn’t first and foremost in the minds of our founding fathers, as many communities didn’t even have a doctor much less a free one.

A doctor’s care was a luxury some could afford while others couldn’t.

But society has changed and now the discussion is whether that should be a fundamental right and as such, one required to be provided by the government.

The answer is no.

Voting, running for office, own property, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of protest, freedom to pursue happiness … those are fundamental rights. They don’t evolve. They don’t change. They are the same today as they were 243 years ago as they will be 243 years from now (hopefully).

What I would agree with, though, is the inclusion of affordable health care and higher education as a government service but not a right, and there’s a huge difference. Libraries are a provided government service. City, county and state parks are provided government services. You don’t have a fundamental right to have access to a government-funded swing set, or computer, or set of Harry Potter books. They are nice amenities to a community and most people are willing to pay for them in the form of taxes, but it is just that: a service, and one that could be taken away should it become a financial burden or should the majority decide to simply eliminate it.

And that’s an important distinction, because if health care and a college education are fundamental rights, they have to be funded regardless of the economy and our nation’s financial state. But they aren’t, so providing them has to be a discussion conducted in that context. And with a national debt north of $22 trillion and growing fast, we need to be focusing on shrinking government spending and increasing revenues before we even consider spending more.

For something to truly be a “fundamental” right, it can’t be negotiable and it also can’t have a price tag attached to it.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.