There are no words more defining and full of promise than these of Thomas Jefferson from the Declaration of Independence. They are in the DNA of every American whether new to this land or descended from the Founding Fathers. In Jefferson’s mind, they are more, much more, than a promise, however. They are “unalienable rights” of everyone.

Unfortunately, today’s realities seem to say otherwise. The violence in our streets and neighborhoods and the dark, thunderous cloud of terrorism render life ever more fragile, entrapping us in constant if sometimes subconscious fear, making a myth of liberty. And happiness? It is becoming as elusive as a mirage, at least for those who can not afford to buy it.

Which brings me to the health-care crisis and the current wars in Washington.

One does not have to think very long to realize that good health care is beyond essential. I wish I could be certain that the people in Washington realize that. What is going on in our government over the issue is unconscionable. I say that, while admitting much of the maneuvering is beyond my comprehension.

Headlines and sound bytes are of no help. Town meetings and public forums offer some light on the subject, but that light is often more fiery than illuminating. And then there is the small print no one pays attention to except the politicians and lobbyists who create it to further and protect their own interests. Health care is big business. Big business and small print are like conniving partners when it comes to getting things done, or small print is at least the back room where deals are made.

What I do know, however, is that with this issue, the words bipartisan and transparency are meaningless. For the Democrats, the issue seems one of compassion, while for the Republicans it is all about big business. A gross oversimplification, to be sure, but the rhetoric from both parties seems to reflect that difference. Why, I ask myself, do such differences have to be mutually exclusive? As for transparency, please re-read the previous paragraph.

We are the wealthiest nation on earth, but not the healthiest. What is wrong with this picture? I realize the pursuit of happiness provides no guarantee for happiness itself. But in this land of liberty, should not life take better care of itself? Should not all of us get beyond politics to purpose? If there is a list of priorities before us as a people, should not health care, even in this economy and this terror-torn world, be at the top? More importantly, should not all of us, as a people, prove that business and compassion can be compatible?

I would like to think Thomas Jefferson thought so.