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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Pursuit of happiness
is mandatory

HOW cool is it that a bunch of politicians -- chosen representatives of the people -- would get together and declare that God has bestowed on all humans an inalienable right to pursue happiness?

Of course, those old white dudes who signed the Declaration of Independence 224 years ago this week also said we have God-given rights -- actually, Creator-given rights -- to life and liberty, but those kind of go without saying. At least they do today. And at least in America.

In Africa's Sierra Leone, slavery still is practiced. The penalty for not going along with the slavery program is death. So much for the right to life.

In Cuba, citizens who want to see the world still have to sneak out of their country on leaky boats and water-logged rafts. So much for liberty.

In light of the recently concluded Elian Gonzalez fiasco, it's timely to note that Fidel Castro's malevolent monarchy continues to thrive in the shadow of the greatest free country of all time. By controlling information -- the press, education, Internet, etc. -- Castro keeps his sandal on the neck of his people.

How great is the lure of liberty? In 1776, a grubby group of under-capitalized and under-armed patriots took on the greatest military power on Earth: the British. In Cuba, those seeking liberty risk their lives to float to freedom. Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida, about the same distance Kauai is from Oahu. But think. What would it take for you to blow up an automobile tire inner tube and try to float from Haleiwa to Lihue? How bad would things on Oahu have to be for you to try that?

As much as Castro tries to vilify the United States, he can't ignore the fact that people flee TO our country and FROM countries like his. No amount of spin and seven-hour speeches in the paseo can change that.

So, it's a good time to remind ourselves that while the right to life and liberty is self-evident in the United States, it still remains theoretical in too many parts of the world.

BUT let's get to this happiness thing. To begin with, I doubt that any group of politicians today would have the guts to allege that "the Creator" endowed us with any rights. Think of the howling by the politically correct crowd! ("Who is this Creator and why does he think he can interfere with government and throw around rights like he owns them?") And if today's politicians were to say that the Creator was in the rights-endowment business, those rights probably would be along the lines of "the right of a redwood not to be cut down by money-hungry logging corporations," "the right of guinea pigs not to be used as guinea pigs," "the right of the Earth to be free from man's pollution," etc.

But Tom Jefferson and his buddies felt that, when it comes to rights, the pursuit of happiness was right up there with the other two biggies: life and liberty. The key word here is "pursuit." They didn't say everyone had a right to happiness, just the right to pursue it.

Some historians will say that by happiness, the authors meant the right to own property and have it protected and to strive for the well-being of all people, not just ourselves. Or that it meant that people have a right to pursue a content, safe and fulfilled life. Maybe so. But I think they meant we have the right to pursue the simple joy of living.

Sorry this July Fourth column comes a day late. I was out pursuing happiness. Almost caught it, too.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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