Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

    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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. — Some historical artifact hanging in the Rotunda that Republicans might want to read sometime

Yesterday I linked to an NRO post by Mark Hemingway that attacked the parents of Bethany Wilkerson. Among other insinuations, Hemingway wrote,

While the debate around the Frost family at least initially centered around their relative wealth, the issue really at hand is one of bad behavior. While USAction and a labyrinthine maze of leftist activist groups prepare to rally around images of Tampa Bay’s Most Photogenic Baby holding up a crayon sign that says “Don’t Veto Me,” Dara and Brian Wilkerson are real poster children — for irresponsible decisions.

On the conference call, Dara admitted to me that she and Brian had been talking about having children since before they were married. She further admitted that after they were married she voluntarily left a job at a country club that had good health insurance, because the situation was “unmanageable.” From there she took a job at a restaurant with no health insurance, and the couple went on to have a baby anyway, presuming that others would pay for it and certainly long before they knew their daughter would have a heart defect that probably cost the gross national product of Burkina Faso to fix. But not knowing about future health problems is the reason we have insurance in the first place.

Blog reaction to Hemingway was, um, strong. Bill Scher:

In the conservative vision for America, the only people who should choose to have children are people that can afford health insurance. Or in other words: “Pro-Life (If You Can Pay For It).” …

… The honest conservative response to seeing the struggles of working class Americans is to mock them.

And the more honest conservatives are about their cold and callous vision for America, the easier it will be for American voters to make informed decisions about where we should go as a nation.

The Carpetbagger:

Hemingway left out a pertinent detail: Dara left that job seven years before Bethany was born. The implication in the National Review piece is that Dara should have stayed at her job in order to provide for her family. The reality shows otherwise. (And Hemingway’s decision to leave this fact out doesn’t reflect well on his argument.)


Implicit in all of this is that every parent in this country has an obligation to either work for someone who provides health insurance for their families —- or be rich. The alternatives — entrepreneurial risk taking, working for retail employers like Walmart or restaurants which fail to provide health insurance, is something that no responsible parent would do. Therefore, that sector of the economy is completely off limits to middle class families. And that is the only sector of the economy that’s actually growing.

(Oh, and by the way, those health insurance providing companies which all responsible middle class should work for are under no obligation to these employees with kids who indenture themselves for the benefit. They are allowed to pull back this coverage any time they want, raise the contributions and fire the employees at will. That’s what Republicans call “liberty.”)

Today Hemingway is whining that he’s been misunderstood:

I suggested that the Wilkersons might have sacrificed by working less-desirable jobs, if that choice (or those choices) meant they could more adequately provide for their daughter. I said that a married couple that has been talking about having kids for years, but has failed to sacrifice financially or make basic economic preparations to pay for their first kid, is acting irresponsibly. That’s hardly “anti-life.” It’s common sense. How many people are in less than optimal jobs because of good benefits for their dependents?

Dude — we heard you the first time.

Life shouldn’t be something you put up with. Certainly, all of us deal with less-than-optimal situations every day; that’s life. But when the big stuff, the stuff that eats most of your time and concern — like your job or your marriage — become something you are just enduring year after year because you don’t have a choice, your life can seem like something you’re just waiting out.

I’ve had jobs that were so miserable I sincerely wondered if I wouldn’t be happier living in a cardboard box on the street. Once I bailed out of an insufferable work situation and found a new job that was even worse. And yes, I do ask myself if it’s me, but I have also had pleasant jobs that I’ve had to leave for reasons unrelated to the job. I think I have bad job karma.

We don’t know what Dara meant by “unmanageable.” Maybe the job required putting in unreasonable hours, which is not compatible with being a parent. Maybe the boss was hitting on her, or was abusive in some other way. I had one boss once who expected me to cheat the vendors and customers to save her money, which I found intolerable. There are some things nobody should have to put up with.

Let’s say Dara enjoys her current job and likes her boss and co-workers. What kind of “free” society would force her to choose between a job she likes and having children?

Freedom is about making your own choices, so let’s talk about choices. President Bush and other right wingers warn us that if we switch to “socialized medicine,” we’ll lose the freedom to choose our own doctors, which is bogus on two levels. First, citizens in most countries with universal health care can choose their own doctors. Second, under our current “system” workers all over America already have been forced to switch doctors by their employer’s managed care plan. And they can’t shop around for a new employer with a better managed care plan, because if they have pre-existing conditions they won’t be insured at all. So what choices do they have?

Even if you have insurance there’s no guarantee you’ll keep it if you develop a major medical problem. Get cancer, lose your home. Some choice.

In America, once upon a time, most people who weren’t slaves or servants were, in effect, self-employed. The whopping majority of free people were farmers. A young person might work for someone else for a while to learn a trade, with the expectation that he would strike out on his own when he was ready. In the 19th century, as the industrial revolution pulled people off farms and into factories, having to work for someone else was derided as “wage slavery.” Now, holding a job is not only respectable, it’s expected. A job isn’t slavery if you can walk away from it, right? But for growing numbers of Americans the system is rigged so that they can’t walk away from it. Call it “insurance slavery.” Road to serfdom, anyone?

John McG of Man Bites Blog writes,

That many people are in jobs they hate for the sake of insurance is a bug, not a feature. … Does the GOP really want to be the party of forcing people into life-sucking 40 hour a week jobs for huge companies for fear that they won’t have insurance? Seems like a loser to me.

I don’t care what the lyrics to the national anthem say; we’re not “the land of the free” if Americans aren’t allowed to make reasonable choices about how to live their own bleeping lives.

20 thoughts on “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Every time I change jobs, I look at the insurance coverage available from the prospective employer before making a decision. So let’s call me a “responsible” parent.

    I’ve had to deal with roll-backs of coverage, increased premiums that I could not afford in order to retain coverage that I needed, pre-existing condition lockouts (in my case, only 6-month waiting periods, thank goodness), and an unexpected layoff that left me uncovered for two years. I guess the rightie morons would say that I made irresponsible employment choices for not being able to predict the future accurately.

    I can’t find the news story now (“the Google” let me down), but I recall Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking recently about a grandson who had a pre-existing condition that prevented them getting insurance. She said that the whole extended family was one catastrophic incident away from bankruptcy. Justice Ginsburg must be an irresponsible parent of irresponsible parents. If she’d been correctly predicting the future, she never would have had kids to begin with.

  2. Plus — I’ve worked for small companies that switched insurance providers frequently — nearly every year — so the selection of “network” physicians changed also. That’s another bite.

  3. Republicans need to ask themselves — if the poor can’t have children, and illegal immigrants are rounded up and deported, in 20 years who’s going to clean their pools? Some people just can’t think ahead.

  4. Pingback: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness at New Baby Clip Art

  5. “I said that a married couple that has been talking about having kids for years, but has failed to sacrifice financially or make basic economic preparations to pay for their first kid, is acting irresponsibly.”

    I know he’s speaking, but I just hear turkey-gabble. What is he talking about? What world do these people live in? What imagined luxuries does he think they’re squandering their “wealth” on, what sacrifices are they failing to make? How much, for example, does he imagine they can save out of their $34,000 combined pay?

  6. Does the GOP really want to be the party of forcing people into life-sucking 40 hour a week jobs for huge companies…?

    In a word, yes. It’s been central to their M.O. for the past hundred years.

    It has been a long, long while since the working and middle classes’ quality of life has been an election issue. We need to keep talking about it, even when the war and the environment are also desperately important. Such is the mess we’ll have to clean up after the a-holes are long gone from Washington.

  7. Related: I’ve often wondered who paid for Terri Schiavo’s 7 (10?) years of vegetative existance. Has to have come to 6 or 7 figures. And another 6 or 7 figures so lawyers could fight about it.

  8. Related: I’ve often wondered who paid for Terri Schiavo’s 7 (10?) years of vegetative existance.

    Wow, that’s a good question. It’s hard to get straight information, but this timline on Wikipedia is interesting. Terri collapsed in February 1990. Her insurance carrier terminated coverage in June 1990. There were some settlements in 1992 and 1993 that included money awarded for Terri’s medical care. Terri’s award is placed in a trust fund controlled by a third party for her medical care, it says. Shortly after the last settlement is awarded in 1993, Terri’s parents begin to fight with the husband about who should be Terri’s guardian. Michael Shiavo decided in 1994 that further treatment was futile, and began the process of having her removed from life support. So Michael and the parens duke in out in Court for the next eleven years, and then Terri dies.

    I remember at the time all manner of people were saying that Michael wanted Terri to die so he could keep the settlement money, and he kept saying the settlement money was already gone, which I suspect is the truth.

    So the answer seems to be that, had the Schindlers won guardianship, either they or the taxpayers of Florida, probably the latter, would have been paying the bills.

  9. If I follow Hemingway’s argument, in order to ‘responsibly’ have children I should have a secure job with an employer large enough to provide health insurance benefits.

    Would he be willing to give me the name of an employer that, in this global economy, will be willing to guarantee me a job, with those same benefits, for the 20 years it will take while I raise the kid, (assuming I perform adequately, and maintain the 40, 50 and 60 hour weeks they want) and not fire me without batting an eye come the next corporate re-org, cost-cutting, or acquisition?

    Or, at the very least, guarantee me a new job with similar benefits (and no pre-existing condition nonsense) within a year so my COBRA doesn’t run out, even if, before my last job dumped me, someone in my family got sick and my new employer might not hire me for fear of what it would do to his insurance costs?

    Because, obviously, without such a guarantee, I couldn’t possibly have a kid ‘responsibly’ in his calculation.

    Can he name even one such employer? Or is he, well, full of sh*t?

    (Doesn’t he realize that he’s actually making the case for governmental provision of health benefits?)

  10. More wild, prolonged & deafening applause!
    I think about the “compassionate, concerned christians” screaming about Terri Schaivo & then I think about the swiftboating of kids and families needing SCHIP & I immediately get a splitting headache. The wingnuts twist themselves into knots trying to justify their inhumanity.

  11. You don’t get it. The wingnuts exect everyone to be in the top 50% income bracket. The only ones who are NOT are obviously crack adicts, psychos or just plain lazy. Income not only defines the level of income, but the QUALITY of the person you are. If you aint pullin’ down the big bucks, it PROVES you are not deserving. Of anything.

  12. re: Terri Schiavo – in Head and Heart: American Christianities, Garry Wills says that she became, for the religious right, in essence the largest and oldest unborn baby.
    Because fetuses are innocent, I guess; it’s just everyone else who has to deal with the folks screeching about one’s badbad choices.

    Supposedly the Greeks called other folks ‘barbarians’ because their languages were presented as incomprehensible noise – ‘bar-bar-bar’. I suppose the Malkins and Hemmingways and etc. would be badbadians?

  13. In Wingnut America, everyone is above average. Or else.

    Income not only defines the level of income, but the QUALITY of the person you are. If you aint pullin’ down the big bucks, it PROVES you are not deserving.

    I can’t remember who or where,but somebody referred to this the other day as ‘economic calvinism’, which seems pretty fitting. And ultimately, I think,leads to a rather Hobbsian state, and unfortunately not the kind involving stuffed tigers. Except ery metaphorically.

    I should note that the biggest fetus remark above may not actually be from Garry Wills – I think so, but my memory’s less like a sieve and more like a stew, with everything sort of mushily blended together. And it seems to involve a surprising number of turnips . . .

  14. I want to go back to the opening quotation, twoards the end, because it’s critical to so many issues that wingnuts claim are unconstitutional because the constitution never mandated such a thing was in the authority of governement. Read for content; there will be a quiz.

    “…. it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ”

    It is the “Right of the People” to institute govenment and organize its powers in the way most likely “to effect their Safety and Happiness.” WE get to decide – WE THE PEOPLE decide what the priorites are that Jefferson threw into an undfined bag and labeled ‘Safety & Happiness”. What’s in the bag today is different from what Jefferson would have tossed in the bag. But don’t get away from the principle. We DECIDE!

  15. Good lord, have folks looked at the comments for the Scher post? Packed with people screeching ‘if you can’t afford kids [as a hardworking two-income couple, in this case] don’t have them!’, and ‘Children are a privilege, not a right!’.

    Although I have to believe the commenter going under the name of “Bellatrix” is (if not completely unaware of Potterdom) an intentional spoof, or else third in line to the most-jaw-droppingly mindless appropriation of literature prize.
    (Behind, that is, Scalia’s citing of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” in defense of property rights, and all the conservatives who have apparently taken 1984, A Modest Proposal, and etc. as instruction manuals,

  16. Perhaps the screeching righties should talk to their God about allowing children to be put into families who cannot afford to be parents in the eyes of said righties…oh ye of little faith?

    And as far as parents who cannot afford kids and are so irresponsible to bring them into this world well it is high time we start rounding all these kids up and remove them from said irresponsible parents, because what kind of society leaves a child in a situation where no one is responsible and then claims themselves to be responsible enough to be a critic?Lets remove all these neglected kids from their irresponsible parents and see how many people in this bleeped up economy get to keep their kids.I guess the fetus people will herd these kids onto farms where they can do better?
    If only people who could afford to have children had them I suggest we would not have enough troops to send 150,000 to Iraq for bush’s folly cause no one would have had children…Someone should tell the moron who spewed this crap in the first place that a good parent is not measured by the money they have in the bank, but instead how they raise their children…Said writer should worry more about RAISING his kids than on how much cash his greedy ass has in the bank…cause all that money won’t be worth a damn if he raises a crappy kid and cuts him loose on society suggest he is a shitty parent and in his quest for the almighty dollar he is ROBBING his own kids of what is REALLY important.
    Raising rich, spoiled ,bratty kids with a sense of entitlement is worse than being poor IMHO…I will thank him to focus more on his own snot nosed brats instead of judging others, cause given his sense of priorities those kids are gonna be a MESS

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