The 99 Percent

There’s a basic, historical misunderstanding at the root of modern Republican philosophy. A little fact that seems to get overlooked. It’s not their insistence that the road to fascism begins with good health care. It’s not even the pretense that President Obama somehow masterminded an economic collapse, bank bailout, and massive deficit weeks, months or years before he came into office. No, the incident that the GOP has let slip is a little more basic.

The South lost.

See, Republicans seem to have mistaken “wage slavery” for … that other kind of slavery. They must have, because anyone who understood that workers are employees, and not property, would recognize that workers have rights.  Not just some rights, not a neatly restricted little subset of rights, but the same rights as the people who employ them. They would recognize that the rights of an employer do not include the ability to abridge the rights of an employee.

Only they don’t. When you see Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum or John Boehner railing against government overstep on religion, conscience, what-have-you, you can be 100 percent certain that their concern is that somewhere, somehow an employer might have to allow his employees to do something that, you know, miffs them. That millions of employees might be forced to do without needed health care … doesn’t enter into the equation.

It’s easy to see how employers might be confused, considering all the love being lavished on them by both parties, and with the paeans being sung to them as magical “job creators.” And hey, we already pretty much handed over that fourth amendment to them, what with peeing in a cup or being able to fire people because of an old photo on Facebook. Republicans have been busy reinforcing that lesson by insisting that anyone who collects so much as an unemployment check should be subject to any rules they want to set. It’s no wonder that the line between handing someone a paycheck, and holding someone’s title, should have gotten blurred.

So consider this a primer to the confused American business owners and executives who might have listened just a little to long to all that sweet praise.

As an employer, you have the absolute right to religious freedom. Attend any church, temple, synagogue or reading room you like. Give as you feel obligated. Worship as you please. Place on yourself any restriction in diet, activity or anything else that you feel is in keeping with your beliefs … but only on yourself. You don’t get to impose these restrictions on your employees.

Your employees are separate from you. Not only that, they are equal to you in rights, no matter how unequal you may be in income. You do not get to tell them who to vote for. You do not get to tell them who they can love. You do not get to use your religious beliefs as an excuse to limit their health care.

No matter how strong your personal faith, your employees are not obligated to live according to those beliefs, expressly because they are personal. You may find it frustrating, but your employees have just as much right to their own beliefs as you do to yours, and whether you pay them pittance on an assembly line or six figures as a manager, you have zero right to carve off a slice of their freedom. The direction of the pay arrow has no effect on who gets to dictate to who.

If the government was telling you, as an individual, that you had to use birth control, that would be a violation of your rights. That’s not happening. They’re just saying that you don’t get to make that decision for the people who work for your company. Because, really, you don’t own them.

If you’re still mad; if you’re upset that healthcare has to be funneled through employers at all … there’s a cure for that. It’s called “single payer.”

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published February 12, 2012, at Daily Kos. Illustration from dailykos.com.
Mark Sumner

Mark Sumner

Mark Sumner is the author of 33 books including both fiction and nonfiction. His most recent publication was "The Evolution of Everything: How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature." He's a past winner of Writers of the Future, and has been nominated for both the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. In addition to the books, he's written many short stories and articles. One series of his books was the inspiration for the television series "The Chronicle." In his five decades, he's been a writer, coal miner, programmer, geologist, project manager, and perpetual student. He lives with his wife in a log cabin at the end of a long gravel road and practices hard at becoming a grouchy old hermit. He's worked on campaigns for thirty years, and has never risen higher than knocker on doors and maker of annoying phone calls.