I may be too young to remember past Presidential transition periods, but there seems to be something unique about public opinion over the last few months, something that defies reason or logic. Across the various “tea party” protests and town hall disruptions, a plethora of arguments have been levied against Barack Obama, the federal government in the abstract, and, well, whatever happens to bother protestors at any given moment.
Dissent vacillates from the understandable, if wrongheaded (fear of big government) to the outright outlandish (the government wants to kill old people). One of the most glaring issues with the “tea party” protests is the ridiculous claim of growing socialism, fascism, and (un)American-ness. One protestor glibly quipped at the recent 9/12 event in Washington, “Barack Obama is an eloquent speaker. But you know who else was? Hitler.” Well for what it's worth, Hitler wasn't exactly an "eloquent" speaker. He was a fiery speaker. An angry, erratic, and emotional speaker. A bit of a difference. Opposites, in fact.
But no argument is as egregious as the idea that we need to return to the vision of our founding fathers—a vision that includes so-called “God-given” rights. A vision from the same founding fathers that owned slaves. A vision from the same founding fathers that institutionalized rights for all men. If we are supposed to follow the intentions of our nation’s founders, shouldn’t we get rid of all the constitutional amendments that altered their original vision? Can I own slaves, and realize my right to life, liberty, and property? Why move forward and progress, when we can revert back to the glory days?
Recently, Glenn Beck offered his own take on our founding fathers’ vision of God-given, inalienable rights. We’ve entrusted too much in government, you see, and instead need to rely solely on our God-given rights. We don’t need government handouts because God has handed out everything we need. Interestingly, conservative blogger Allahpundit, of conservative pundit Michelle Malkin’s Hotair.com, disagrees with Beck’s empirically vacant, inaccurate historical argument:
“[…] If the key to American governance is the passage in the Declaration of Independence about god-given inalienable rights, why’d the authors of the Constitution go ahead and enumerate some of those rights anyway? And why, if they’re inalienable and god-given, weren’t those rights made exempt from amendment or repeal via Article V? The touchstone of the Constitution isn’t God, it’s rule by popular consent; religion may well influence the public in deciding which rights are so critical that even the popularly elected government should be forbidden to touch them, but when push comes to shove, it’s your call, not God’s. Slavery was once a right too, after all, and I’m sure there were plenty of apologists who found religious backing for that, fair or not. […]”
Politicians, in fact, create laws and rights. Different nation states enforce different laws and protect different rights because, of course, they contain different politicians and govern through different political structures. God didn’t bestow the democratic process; people created different ideas of governance.
The gospel of the Constitution has been romanticized to such an extent that pundits and citizens alike are deifying a man-made historical document. Whether or not you believe in God or any other spiritual entity, the fact remains that rights are not “God-given.” We fight for rights. We struggle for rights. We—as in, “we the people”—create rights for ourselves: We define what exactly constitutes a right, mobilize and pressure politicians to enact them, and then rely on our leaders to protect them.
Rights aren’t uniformly deployed, decontextualized, from a spiritual construct that may or may not exist. They emerge from the bottom up, from the same “ regular people” Beck and others claim to represent.