When I read of the flap over the comment Kara McCullough, the newly crowned Miss USA, made that health care was not a right, I couldn’t help but think of a conversation I had a few years back with my now 86-year-old dad. It helped put the question of rights in context for me, and that helped me better understand why people were so angry with her. Perhaps it will help you, too.
Of course, the first thing we have to do is make sure we understand what McCullough meant. I don’t think she meant that people did not have a right to seek out medical care when they need it. And that’s certainly not why she was criticized. She was criticized because she doesn’t seem to think that people have a right to health care that entails a right to have someone else pay for it or at least help pay for it.
And that brings me to my conversation with my dad. He was born in 1931 into what we might today call poverty. His family subsisted off of what their 30 acres in Ringgold, Georgia, could produce. Here’s the conversation:
DAVID: Dad, when you were in high school, didn’t you want to play sports, at least in the winter when it wasn’t growing season?
DAD: Sure. I wanted to try to play basketball.
DAVID: Wouldn’t grandpa let you?
DAD: No, he said I could play.
DAVID: Then why didn’t you?
DAD: Because he told me that if I broke my nose or some other bone, I’d just have to get used to it being broken, because they didn’t have money to pay a doctor to fix it. And he let me know I’d still be expected to keep up my chores and help with planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. So I chose not to play.
Amazing. It never entered the minds of those in my grandfather’s generation that someone owed them medical care, particularly if the need arose from a decision they made that harmed their health.
I’ve never asked my dad why they didn’t think they had a right to have someone pay for their health care, but I think I know why. It’s because they and we as a nation once understood what a true right was.
A true right is one that inheres in the nature of things, or, as our Founding Fathers would have said, a true right is one that is endowed on us by our Creator. True rights are pre-political. True rights don’t come from government; never have and never will.
If the government doesn’t “owe” me something, I really can’t be angry that it’s not given to me. But if I think government “owes” me something, that I have a right to something, then my anger is righteous and justified.
So what do we make of the anger expressed toward McCullough? To me, it simply means an increasing number of us believe rights come from government, not from God. And that tells me something else. I should expect the size of government to keep increasing. After all, it has a really big job to do, one that previous generations thought only God could do.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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