Freedom Watch

Liberty Is Finite

What's at stake in the health care fight.

By From the March 2010 issue

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"There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom
of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those
in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations..."

-- James Madison, June 6, 1788
Speech to the Virginia Convention on Ratifying the Constitution

Although spoken more than two centuries ago, Mr. Madison's words to the Virginia Convention have special resonance today in light of the continuing movement by some to nationalize the nation's health care system. While those championing this radical change in our everyday lives may have the best of intentions, the costs of their proposals are not just financial. Rather, much of what has been proposed would eat away at the very liberty that this nation was founded to protect.

Under the guise of improving health care, supporters of health care centralization are proposing to redefine the relationship of citizens to the state. Historically, in the American social compact, government has served as the agent of the people, deriving its sovereignty from the consent of the governed.

With "reformed" health care, the federal government will insert itself into every aspect of a person's life. With the government involved from cradle to grave and at every step along the way, proponents of health care reform would turn the citizen into a mere ward of the state. With the citizen-child now reliant on the government-parent for all aspects of his well-being, the citizen has forever ceded his liberty to the wishes and whims of the federal government.

Regardless of how well intentioned the governmental effort, this enormous loss of liberty is antithetical to America's founding principles.

The limits on federal power in the Constitution and its first ten amendments were put there by our Founding Fathers not just to protect citizens from those who would take our liberties at the point of a gun, but also to prevent the gradual encroachments effected by those in power who claim to be serving the greater good.

The various versions of health care reform that Democrats in Congress have championed over the last year have all contained provisions that are inconsistent with the original understanding and plain text of the Constitution. From an individual mandate requiring citizens to buy "approved" insurance from a private company or face a tax, fine, or jail (literally a tax on simply being alive), to co-opting state governments to mandate the formation of insurance exchanges, to the corrupt Cornhusker Compromise by which we learned what the vote of one senator costs, the proposed legislation explodes the limits of federal power, guts the powers of the states as sovereign entities, and diminishes the fundamental role of citizens.

The entire endeavor is inconsistent with the notion of a limited federal government. Furthermore, the coercion of individual citizens and the co-opting of state legislatures violate the plain text of both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

Proponents of liberty must use all of the tools the Constitution provides to defend against this onslaught on our liberty. While the champions of health care centralization will tout their benevolent motives and complain about the inefficiencies and technicalities imposed by various constitutional provisions, citizens should remember that those inefficiencies and technicalities were placed there for a reason -- they are truly the bulwarks of individual liberty. If we ignore them to allow for the perceived crisis of the moment, they and the freedoms they protect are lost forever.

In seeking to protect the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, we are vigorously pursuing freedom for our citizens in the face of a government that, no matter how well intentioned, seeks to expand its power at citizens' expense.

While the nation's "economic pie" can be grown through good economic policies, the "liberty pie" is a zero-sum game -- it doesn't grow or shrink -- and there are only two slices: government power and citizens' liberty. If the current notions of centralized health care are enacted, government's raw power over citizens' lives will increase, and their liberty will be reduced by the same amount.

The bottom line is that fighting the further centralization of health care isn't just about money, it's a fight to preserve liberty, and it's a fight worth having.

For me, I will stand for liberty.

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About the Author

Ken Cuccinelli is the recently elected attorney general of Virginia.