Life, liberty, and other forgotten things


July Fourth, in addition to being a day we don't go to work in favor of grilling meat and mowing the lawn and lighting fireworks, is the 235th anniversary of the date 56 men declared to the themselves and to the world that they would no longer be ruled by a king. Though no longer as readily recognized by every schoolchild and citizen, this sentence from the Declaration of Independence is perhaps the best remembered:

"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."

We certainly excel at pursuing the last (though too many of us think this is a guarantee of happiness, to be provided by one's fellow taxpayers), but we've been losing sight, decade after decade, of the first two. There's a nifty, scary website (USDebtClock.org) that provides a running tally of things like the amount of money spent so far this year on Social Security and collected from payroll taxes, and the federal debt. The magnitude of a number like $14.5 trillion in debt is lost on most of us, and so I appreciate how this website breaks that down so that it's more understandable.

If the federal government stopped, at this moment, spending more than it takes in, every U.S. citizen would owe more than $46,000 in government debt. If you divide this debt by the number of people who actually pay tax bills, that number is just shy of $130,000. Meanwhile, states and local governments have racked up another $3 trillion in debt, and then we as private citizens have amassed another $52,000 in private debt, on average.

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"No man," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "can by natural right, oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the payment of debts contracted by him. For if he could, he might, during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which would be the reverse of our principle."

Set aside, then, the holocaust of abortion and the growing number of young people killed in foreign interventions that rarely seem to have clear objectives-both of which impinge on what the Founders had in mind when they aspired to a government that protects rather than destroys life. Simply on the basis of facilitating a massive transfer of wealth from future generations to select members of the current generation, our government is, by Jefferson's understanding, laying waste to life.

My children, and their children, face the prospect of a standard of living significantly reduced from what my fellow voters have enjoyed, and to be honest, that makes me angry. We've eaten the seed corn, cheered on by-and cheering on-politicians who care more about immediate electoral gain than responsible governance.

Having valued life so cheaply, and made "liberty" an almost laughable word, what happiness might we expect to pursue, and for how long? As I think on these things this July Fourth, I can't help but wonder what the Founders would say. And I wonder if we still have within us the courage essential to reclaiming the vision of liberty on which this nation was founded.


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