In the midst of the recent health care debates, opinion polls showed surprisingly strong majorities of Americans who agreed with the proposition that health care amounted to a basic human right.
But all those who affirm this entitlement—and, by implication, support the government’s role in protecting it — face an uncomfortable but inevitable challenge to their position: if citizens possess a fundamental right to health insurance, why should society stop there?
What about other basic needs that constitute pre-requisites for human dignity – like the right to food, shelter, education, jobs… and even cars? If the uninsured need and deserve medical protection, then surely the hungry should receive nourishment, the homeless ought to get housing, the unemployed require jobs and, ultimately, a compassionate nation must provide automotive transport for all who might otherwise feel trapped, immobile, hopeless and helpless with no access to the transportation they need to better their circumstances.
I raised the question of a sacred right to cars with an especially engaged and receptive audience when I delivered one of the keynote speeches last week at the annual convention of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association. These professionals understand the importance of automobiles in sustaining our national ideals of freedom and autonomy: behind the wheel of a working vehicle, with a full tank of gas to drive your dreams, you can go wherever you want whenever you choose to make the journey. Even among the 37 million Americans who officially live below the poverty line, 74% of households in this country own their own cars and an amazing 31% own two cars or more. Among the destitute, in other words, automobiles count as more common – and more necessary – than health insurance. The homeless population in every major city includes a sizable proportion that actually lives in their vehicles, often driving from place to place in hopes of changing their luck.
If government plays an ever-increasing role in guaranteeing health insurance and providing food (with university students and the homeless comprising new target groups for aggressive recruitment efforts by the SNAP/Food Stamps program), why not similar efforts to provide each individual with a car of his very own?