My safety is my right
RE: I have the right … or not (Consider This, April 10)Thank heaven for Gary Lindstrom’s column, which consistently provides us with cautionary illustrations of nanny-state liberalism. In his latest, Mr. Lindstrom challenges his constituents to find the rights they assert in the Constitution; this stands our Founding Fathers’ vision of government on its head. Perhaps he has not paid much attention to the document himself. If he had, he could not have failed to notice the Ninth Amendment, which states succinctly: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Or the 10th, which says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The real question, based on James Madison’s view of government – as expressed in the Constitution Gary Lindstrom embraces – might be “OK, smart guy, show me where the Constitution allows the government to do this …” Mr. Lindstrom goes on to assert that government and elected officials have a responsibility to “provide for the health, safety and welfare of all the people,” and to this end unhealthy or unsafe behavior must be criminalized and punished. Really? And from where does this responsibility come? Certainly not from men like James Madison or Thomas Jefferson, both of whom had a very healthy suspicion of the power of government, and of its appetite for growth at the expense of personal freedom. For an illustration, try Thomas Jefferson’s Nov. 29, 1809, letter to Thomas Cooper, in which he wrote, “If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.” Or, for a very clear description of what the author of the Constitution thought the term “general welfare” meant, read the Federalist No. 41. Madison’s definition is quite different than that of Mr. Lindstrom.All of this is not to say that I don’t wear a seat belt. I do. I did before there was a law mandating it. When I rode a motorcycle, I wore a helmet, law or not. I shun cigarettes, whether in a casino or not, and I will continue to do so, regardless of what the law allows. Some behaviors are just common sense. But that’s the point: my safety, my choice. When the government gets into the business of mandating and punishing behaviors based on a necessarily arbitrary view of “health, safety and welfare,” we place government at the service of the ever-changing discoveries of science, and of fashion.In doing so, we skate perilously close to the situation outlined in Madison’s address to the Virginia Constitutional ratifying Convention in June of 1788: “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include name, hometown and phone number.
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