Saturday, August 29, 2009

#5, with a bullet: promoting the general Welfare

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The United States Constitution is a beautiful -- and at times confounding ("three fifths of all other Persons") -- thing. If you're building a national government from scratch, it's a good idea to begin by delineating the purpose of said government, just to ensure that future generations don't forget, and our framers did a neat job of it in just 327 words here in the preamble.

Of course, paragraphs prove troublesome for our Facebook generation, so it may have helped had the framers used a bullet list, like so:
We the People of the United States do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America, in Order to:
  • form a more perfect Union
  • establish Justice
  • insure domestic Tranquility
  • provide for the common defense
  • promote the general Welfare
  • secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
So there you go -- the six-fold purpose of the United States government. Now, it would be fun to go bullet by bullet and examine each of these purposes in depth, but I don't have time for that today. Instead, I intend to take a brief look at bullet #5.

Just how does a nation promote the general Welfare of its citizenry? Politics and ideologies aside, in a purely intellectual exercise, I bet we could all agree on a basic list: ensure safe food and water, build infrastructure (transportation, utilities, etc.), education, public services (fire and police protection, garbage disposal, etc.), and certainly, perhaps most importantly, health care. Health care must be on ANY list of priorities for promoting the general Welfare of any nation's citizenry, right? I mean, the federal government of the United States gives me free broadcast television (I don't subscribe to cable). Health care must rank a higher priority than free television!

This is a common sense interpretation of the Constitution. It is the purpose of our government to promote the general Welfare of its citizens, and there is no way to reasonably argue that health care is not essential to the general Welfare of every American. And yet, watch any "news" show, and you'll be inundated with angry proclamations that providing health care is not the job of government, that the government exists to do other things.

A friend recently forwarded the following video to me that illustrates the paradox of this argument:

Now, I'm a liberal and an idealist, but I'm not an idiot. I'm aware that the video above vastly oversimplifies the issues involved overhauling our current health care system. The other night I had a very amicable conversation with my closest and most conservative Republican friend (he's actually the press secretary for a certain Pennsylvania congressman) about the complexities, ideological rifts, and economic data obstructing real action on this issue.

No one is certain that American health care can be fixed successfully. There's a real possibility that in trying to fix it, we can make it worse, but that's a risk inherent in the repair of almost any important system (ever had surgery?). Yes, we might fail, but it is the constitutionally mandated job of the government to do this, anyway. Fear of failure is no reason for inaction.


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  2. I think one of the most interesting things about life is about how so many of the things we do are done so because "that's how we first did it"—not because of their efficiency.