The Right to Be Let Alone – A Political Hippocratic Oath

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

– Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting)

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Doctors swear an oath  before they begin practicing medicine. Politicians swear an oath as well, as prescribed by the Constitution, though the business of executing that oath seems more readily disregarded by the latter than the former. I suggest a revised oath for the 21st Century. Here’s an initial and tentative draft of what it might look like, in resolution format.

  1. WHEREAS, I am a politician, a job whose only requirements are raising enough money to afford a campaign, and then convincing enough people to vote for me;
  2. WHEREAS, on account of that, I recognize that election to office did not invest me with knowledge I did not already obtain or wisdom I did not already possess;
  3. WHEREAS, I do not know better than you how to live your life, manage and dispose of your property, raise your kids, invest your assets, or plan for your retirement, among other various matter pertaining to the vicissitudes of life (and even if I do, I recognize that, at the end of the day, it is not my business how you choose to conduct yourself in these matters so long as you are not hurting me or others in how you choose to do so);
  4. WHEREAS, I am most likely to listen to my wealthiest/closest supporters, no matter how idealistic I am and how much I say I am looking out for the “little guy”;
  5. WHEREAS, I recognize that Aaron Sorkin’s beatific vision of politics is woefully misguided naivete, no matter how many times I watch West Wing through;
  6. WHEREAS, forcible moral instruction and correction is a task ill-suited to politicians, and should be left to families, religious entities, and communities;
  7. WHEREAS, the longer I remain in office, the more disconnected I become from those I govern, no matter how hard I try;
  8. THEREFORE, I not only pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; but I also hereby pledge to  do my part to “protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations,” by ensuring that each American is ensured “the right to be let alone” to the maximum extent possible, so that they might order their affairs as they see fit, in peace, free from governmental intrusion, paternalistic nudging, or any other form of busybodyism that afflicts the body politic from time to time.

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Primum non nocere

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