Mere hours after Breitbart News published an excerpt from an interview with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in which he speculated that President Barack Obama would “prefer a different kind of constitution,” one with a Bill of Rights based on the South African model, former Obama administration regulatory czar Cass Sunstein published an op-ed making a similar argument: that the president wants a “second Bill of Rights” alongside the existing one.
Sunstein located the source of Obama’s inspiration in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address, rather than the South African constitution–though the American academics whose writings inspired South Africa’s ambitious Bill of Rights could well have taken Roosevelt’s proposals as their foundation.
Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights–not a list of constitutional amendments, but policy goals–was as follows:
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
Sunstein points out Roosevelt was not a socialist–and yet many of the “rights” he proposed were inspired by socialist policies. The Soviet constitution of 1936, too, included the right to work, among other guarantees.
In addition, Sunstein argues that Obama has made progress on least one of these rights: the right to health care, through the highly controversial Obamacare–whose costs will begin to be felt this year in earnest.
The analogy is not perfect: one “right” on which Roosevelt would not have agreed with Obama, for example, is the “right” of public sector workers to bargain collectively and to strike, which Roosevelt opposed.
Regardless, both conservatives and liberals may agree: Obama is aiming at achieving a new set of socioeconomic rights, whether through law or through policy. It is the dream of progressives and liberals for the better part of a century–a dream that has resisted the reality that these “rights” are not justiciable; that they degrade the value of other, fundamental, rights; and they create more policy problems than they solve.