Over at the Fraters Libertas blog, the chap known as Saint Paul went poking around the Library of Congress' Thomas facility, and he turned up a fistful of House resolutions authored by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Illinois). The Bill of Rights, you'll remember, contains ten articles (out of twelve originally proposed), but that's apparently not quite enough; Jackson seems to envision a society with nine more.

This, according to Paul, is Jackson's wish list:

  • the right of convicted felons to vote
  • the right for all citizens to an education of equal high quality
  • the right for all citizens to health care of equal high quality
  • the right for abortion on demand
  • the right to housing
  • the right to a clean, safe, sustainable environment
  • the right to full employment
  • the right to equal pay for equal work
  • the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection

This first point seems a bit odd, until you consider that Jackson's assumed constituency is statistically more likely than average to have spent substantial time in the slammer; restoring the franchise to them would garner him more votes. I don't expect this to go anywhere, though, and there's no way to sell this as a civil-rights measure: felons, after all, did have the right at one time, and tossed it away.

"Equal high quality," the one characteristic in common of the next two items, describes a condition that does not exist in nature and cannot be synthesized in the laboratory; the moment somebody works up an improvement, the equality by definition disappears. One could enforce equality by forbidding improvements, I suppose, but what does this say about quality?

I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I don't think anywhere near a majority of the American public is ready for "abortion on demand," however that may be defined, and I suspect that in at least some ways it conflicts with "health care of equal high quality."

"Housing" with no qualifiers is worrisome. Does Jackson wish to authorize squatters, and confer rights of ownership upon them? I assume he's upset with the number of homeless people on the street; does he wish to have them institutionalized?

I have no particular quarrel with "clean, safe, sustainable environment," though I must point out that it is impossible to remove every last pollutant, even if we had the budget for it, which we don't, and therefore "safe" cannot be an absolute. And I take issue with "sustainable" in its current political definition, which implies that we won't ever run out of something. The supply of fossil fuels, we are constantly reminded, is limited. On the other hand, the surest way to make alternative energy sources cost-effective is to run out of fossil fuels, so Jackson should be telling us that it's actually in our best interest to use up the stuff as fast as possible.

What is "full employment"? I work 48 hours a week, 49 weeks a year. Sounds pretty full to me. If "full employment" means simply "everyone has a job," well, there are an awful lot of Help Wanted ads going unanswered.

There is, I suspect, something tricky about "equal pay for equal work," since this is something we (nominally, at least) already have. Does Jackson actually mean "equal pay for equivalent work"? And if so, who gets to determine what is "equivalent"?

After that, it gets complicated. "Just and favorable remuneration" is a contradiction in terms: if it's truly favorable, someone's going to view it as something less than just. And while I gripe a lot about my income, which is fairly insubstantial, I'm not goofy enough to think it has something to do with my personal dignity; I've felt pretty much the same about myself whether I made four thousand a year or (just shy of) forty. Undoubtedly there are people whose self-image is W-2-based you have to have some criterion, I suppose but nothing anywhere in the Constitution implies that the government is responsible for maintaining anyone's self-esteem.

"[I]f those were our civil rights," comments Saint Paul, "I think I'd be the first one in line at the courthouse. Because looking around at my apartment and reviewing the sorry state of my personal and professional life, I got to tell you, I'm getting screwed!" I know the feeling. It's never occurred to me, though, to recommend legislation that would screw everyone. It's a shame, though not a surprise, that Jesse Jackson Jr. has.

The Vent

17 April 2003

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 Copyright © 2003 by Charles G. Hill