Extending the Promise of America to More Americans

In September of 2009, on the eve of a speech that President Obama gave before a joint session of Congress, I wrote my own version of what I hoped he’d argue. It still captures much of what I consider the best arguments for a federal health care system, based upon the logic of the Declaration of Independence. Here it is, slightly updated for March 2012:

I. Two hundred and thirty five years ago, the founders of this nation produced a document declaring the fundamental aims of good government. Spurred on by the reality of their present oppression, they chose to move forward with hope for a brighter future and set a standard for generations of Americans to follow:

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.

They went on to declare that when governments fail in their support of these unalienable rights, the people have the right, the responsibility, to alter that government. The founding generation did so through war against the world’s strongest military.

Fortunately for us, that same generation of leaders established a Constitution and representative democracy, so that for most of our nation’s history its citizens have been able to alter that government with the ballot rather than the sword, and with the strength of their convictions rather than the force of their arms. In doing so, they have repeatedly extended the opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by involving government in upholding and expanding related rights.

Unfortunately, we once more find ourselves at a crisis of history, a time when these ideals are slipping from the reach of our fellow citizens. How we respond to this crisis will determine whether our children’s children will remember us for upholding the values upon which this nation was founded or for squandering the legacy of those great truths.

II. Rising health insurance costs and unequal, inadequate access to care are forcing millions of Americans to choose between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each year, medical bills lead to hundreds of thousands of bankruptcies in this country. Millions more suffer under the weight of bills they cannot much longer afford and could not have anticipated. Many of them had health insurance but found the coverage inadequate when the need was greatest. Others, barred from coverage due to pre-existing conditions or simple inability to pay the basic monthly premiums, never had a chance.

Crushed under these weighty expenses, our fellow citizens are literally losing their liberty due to the cost of preserving their lives. Faced with the expense of caring for a sick parent, grandparent, or child, Americans are being forced to leverage their homes, forgo education, and trade away future opportunities for the pursuit of happiness, for themselves and for their children.

III. Now, it is true that change always requires sacrifice. The first generation of Americans fought for their freedom, their independence, and their rights through war, paying the price with the sacrifice of their blood. Later generations gave their all to free slaves, defeat fascism, and overcome communism. Today’s challenges will also require some sacrifice on our part.

Those who are best off economically and best able to afford their own expensive health insurance policies will bear some of the burden for extending reasonable coverage to their fellow citizens. Insurance companies that have benefited from tight regulations that diminished entrepreneurship will find themselves faced with competition from innovative insurance cooperatives and a public option designed to expand coverage and curtail rising health care costs. Though we will do our best to ensure a smooth transition, those who have most benefited from the current system of employer-supported health insurance are likely to face some disruption as we meet the demands of new economic realities by personalizing health insurance choices.

IV. Throughout this process and especially during the recent congressional recess, vocal opponents of health care reform have expressed outrage over a new government program, calling it socialist or fascist as they saw fit. But we must keep in mind the best truths about our country. We live in a nation governed by the Constitution, a document created to guarantee that “We the people” would remain in control. Government is not some foreign entity, some secret society bent on our destruction. Rather, it is what we make of it. We must decide here, tonight, what that government will be going forward.

Will government continue to be a passive mediator as health insurance slips from the reach of millions more Americans and this nation’s citizens struggle under the weight of ever-increasing health care costs? Or will we band together, once more, as a great nation and use our prosperity for the benefit of all citizens? I believe, and I know you believe, that this is the greatest nation on earth. Will we continue, as a nation, to settle for the least effective, least accessible, most expensive health care system in the developed world? Or will we again exercise our collective strength to meet this new challenge?

V. Tonight I call upon members of congress and all citizens of this great nation to once more rise up to meet the challenge put forth in the Declaration of Independence and work together as one nation to once more establish our most cherished ideals, to declare to the world and to future generations that

We still 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.

And that the United States of America continues to have a government dedicated to upholding these unalienable rights, not at the expense of our other values but as the culmination of what it means to be a free citizen of this great nation. Let us join together in Extending the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all Americans.



This is the third in a series explaining why I favor a national health care system. For the introduction to the series and a list of the posts, click here. Or, for all my health care related posts, see here.

One Response to Extending the Promise of America to More Americans
  1. Jacob Morgan
    April 10, 2012 | 8:03 pm

    That the “life” in “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” is an unalienable right to health insurance is a ridiculous notion.
    I. That you would compare health insurance with ending slavery, or creating an environment where people could live and practice religion according to their own beliefs is insulting on both counts.

    II. Opening sentence: Rising health care costs is the first faulty premise (and one that annoys me to no end). There is NO rise in health care costs. If you want the same healthcare that our founding fathers had, then you will pay LESS today than they paid back then. However, if you want cutting edge technology, the kind that costs billions of dollars to invent, or if you want 24 hour care from dozens of people who spent upwards of a decade of their lives in higher education, well then you are going to be paying a lot more for it. These options simply weren’t options in the past, but if they had been, they would have been more expensive back then than they are now. This whole notion of rising healthcare costs is such a blatant straw man argument that its disappointing to see it as one of the few argumentative supports used.
    It forces Americans to choose between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What exactly do those mean to you? How does paying for healthcare prevent any of those? Pursuit of happiness does NOT require money. The intent of our founding fathers was to that everyone would have freedom to choose to pursue whatever was important to them. So if you want to pursue health, then you can, and that is your happiness. You can pursue it, that’s the right. You don’t have a right to have it given to you.
    There are dozens of issues in today’s world that crush people in debt. I’ll just give one example. Housing. It has a larger financial impact on more citizens than healthcare(see number of underwater houses, homeless, etc.) and represents a market where one citizen has a greater impact on his neighbor than healthcare (foreclosure).
    III. So the majority of people can take from the minority in order to create a society where the majority has a slightly better life? So if you are able to afford a nice, new, gas efficient car, then you should be required to subsidize the gas costs of the poor people who can’t? If your home is one of the few that isn’t underwater, then you should be required to subsidize those that are underwater? Obviously there is a never ending supply of analogies, but you get the point.
    The ultimate question is: What gives YOU the right to take from a free, American citizen and give it to another free, American citizen? (Yes, I understand that there are other government programs that fall in this category, and those have the same fundamental problems.)
    IV. The constitution (and its amendments) didn’t just create a society run by the majority. It also created a structure for those rare occasions when a majority of Americans could be persuaded to believe in an idea that is contrary to the ideals that America was founded on. Perfect example – 14th amendment. So even if a majority of people decide a minority aren’t human, they can’t choose to enslave them in order to make a better society for the majority.

    And the obligatory libertarian finish. We have a free society. FREE. That means that Obama (and all of those other billionaires he talks about that want to pay higher taxes) has total freedom to start a charity (with his own money) that helps people obtain health insurance. If he TRULY believed in the cause, that’s absolutely what he would do.