HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 14, 2007, Herald Journal

Opportunity (not entitlement)

By IVAN RACONTEUR

America is the land of opportunity, not entitlement.

Everyone, even the latest arrival in this country, seems to know that we have rights.

The problem is, there is widespread confusion over what those rights are.

A colleague recently shared a copy of a “Bill of No Rights,” by Lewis Napper.

The document addresses a number of things that some people consider rights, but which are not rights at all.

First among these is wealth. New cars, electronics, and big houses can be nice to have, but the right to possess these things is not guaranteed by the Constitution.

They must be earned.

Article two is one of my favorites. It says no one has the right never to be offended.

Napper wrote, “This country is based on freedom, and that means freedom for everyone, not just you.”

I don’t know where people get the idea that they should be able to suppress anything with which they don’t agree.

We don’t have to agree with the opinions expressed by others. We don’t even have to listen to them if we don’t want to. But, if we are to be free to have our own opinions, we must defend the right of others to have and express their opinions.

I am particularly concerned about people who come to this country from somewhere else, and immediately begin attacking the US and demanding “their rights.”

People who come into this country legally and become citizens are certainly entitled to some rights, but they are entitled to the same rights as the rest of us, not more.

Another favorite of mine from Napper’s list states, “You do not have the right to be free from harm.”

He is referring to common sense. If people do stupid things, such as use tools or appliances in ways that they were never intended to be used, and are injured as a result, these people should not be able to secure enormous sums of money from manufacturers as compensation for their stupidity.

If a person is foolish enough to use an electric hair dryer while standing in the shower, this is a matter for natural selection, not the courts.

Article four on Napper’s list says, “You do not have the right to free food and housing.”

This is a sensitive area. Americans are extremely charitable and generous, and most agree there should be a safety net for those who legitimately come upon hard times.

But, what was intended as a temporary safety net has bred a subculture of entitlement, and a welfare state that defies logic.

There is something wrong with a system that rewards people for not working, discourages those who try to improve themselves and get off the system, and increases benefits to those who compound their situation by popping out more kids that they cannot support or take care of.

Too often, hard working people who experience temporary setbacks are in a worse position, and find it more difficult to obtain benefits, than those who see welfare as a career choice rather than a safety net.

Public assistance programs should be designed to help people get the education and training they need to get back to the point where they can take care of themselves as soon as possible.

For those who chose not to accept the opportunities that are available, we could perhaps still offer minimal assistance, but recipients should be made to earn it.

There is plenty of work that needs to be done, whether it be cleaning up our communities or building or restoring parks and other public structures.

Not only would this give taxpayers some benefit from the tax dollars that are being poured into the system each year, but it might even give the workers a sense of pride in what they are doing, rather than the stigma of being a burden on society.

Related to this is article eight, which says, “You do not have the right to a job.”

It is in the interest of all of us that people are employed and able to support themselves, but it is the responsibility of each of us to work hard and take advantage of educational or vocational opportunities to qualify for jobs.

The hiring process should be based on ability, not on artificial quotas.

People should not be discriminated against based on factors unrelated to the job, but neither should they expect to be handed a job based on a long list of excuses.

Articles six and seven say that people do not have the right to physically harm others, or to help themselves to the possessions of others.

If people make the decision to assault, rape, or kill someone, or to steal from another, there should be swift and immediate consequences.

“Due process” is a noble concept, but it is time for us to focus on victims’ rights rather than criminals’ rights.

The pendulum has swung too far, and we are so worried about offending someone or violating the “rights” of murderers and sex offenders, the path to justice has become a long and cumbersome one.

America is a land of opportunity, and it is understandable that people who come to this country might want to bring some of their customs and culture with them.

But, this does not mean that we should have to abandon our customs and culture to accommodate the newcomers, or to avoid offending those with different ideas.

Freedom is not free, and rights involve opportunity, not handouts.

If we allow people to twist the concept of rights to fit their own whims, we risk destroying the fundamental principles upon which the country was founded.