Mazzuca: A discussion of rights |

Mazzuca: A discussion of rights

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once wrote, “Knowledge of our system of government is not handed down through the gene pool … we have neglected civic education for the past several decades, and the results are predictably dismal.” 

Although Justice O’Connor made this statement a number of years ago, recent polling proves how correct she was. To wit: just 26 percent of Americans know how many amendments make up the Bill of Rights and just a little more than a third of the respondents polled (36 percent) could name all three branches of government.  

More pathetically, just as many (35 percent) couldn’t even identify a single branch of the government that passes the laws they live under and spends their tax dollars.

But the really sad part of the ignorance of government and how it functions is this phenomenon isn’t limited to the citizenry; it extends to some of our elected officials. We need look no further than the news clips of democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ rallies and how the uninformed react to his exhortations about the right to a living wage, the right to health care, the right to paid college tuition, etc., etc.

I understand why Bernie’s legions want these things; I mean who wouldn’t? But the problem is that Bernie wants people to believe these things are rights, when history has already delivered its verdict; that these notions are unsustainable in a free society.

The classic illustration is how Venezuela collapsed not long after Sanders told us it was easier to reach the American dream there than in the U.S.

The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press, the right to bear arms and all the other guarantees many of us now take for granted. Yet these enumerated rights are nowhere near as expansive as what Bernie espouses. 

So what does Bernie know that the founders didn’t?  And why not guarantee jobs and the right to social insurance and the right to free college tuition, etc.? The answer is clear; “social rights” undermine the very idea of what the founders were trying to accomplish — freedom.

The rights the founders immortalized in the United States Constitution were predicated on individual claims against the state. As an example, we have a right to free speech, which means that sphere of activity is protected by law from encroachment by the government. As an aside, removing that right would mean amending the constitution, which is no simple task — exactly as the founders intended.

Economic or social rights (the right to paid vacations, the right to healthcare, free college, etc.) are not claims of the individual for protection from the state; rather these are claims made by the individual on the state — which someone has to pay for. Meanwhile, my freedom of speech, my right to bear arms, and my right against self-incrimination doesn’t cost my neighbor anything but their tolerance.

Let’s never forget the two eternal maxims of government: First, whatever government gives one individual it must first take from another; and secondly, whatever government gives a man, government can just as easily take from him.  

Guaranteed jobs, college tuition, healthcare, etc. are things the citizenry demands the state grant them. But in their eagerness for free stuff, what they’re really doing is increasing their dependence on government, which is the antithesis of freedom.

During the Cold War leaders in the former Soviet Union had a saying, “We have economic rights, a guaranteed job, free health care, cheap transportation — you have political rights — to each his own.” But that’s the colossal lie of socialism; in reality, the Soviet people lived not just in repression but also in abysmal living conditions having neither political rights nor economic well being.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights included both civil and political rights; it also contained economic, social and cultural rights — this second category was designed to please the heads of those states that denied their citizens the first.

Bernie honors the false god of socialism, which is not what Hamilton, Adams, Jay, Jefferson, Madison and Washington, had in mind for the Republic.

Quote of the day: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” — Abraham Lincoln

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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