This is, without doubt, brazen and even radical stuff, full of the
sort of triumphalistic, jingoistic, and greedy rhetoric you expect from
Republicans and conservatives. Brace yourself:
will confidently proceed to unshackle American enterprise and to free
American labor, industrial leadership, and capital, to create an
abundance that will outstrip any other system.
competitive enterprise is the most creative and productive form of
economic order that the world has seen. The recent slow pace of American
growth is due not to the failure of our free economy but to the failure
of our national leadership. ...
growth is the means whereby we improve the American standard of living
and produce added tax resources for national security and essential
public services. ...
American free enterprise system is one of the great achievements of the
human mind and spirit. It has developed by a combination of the
energetic efforts of working men and women, bold private initiative, the
profit motive and wise public policy, until it is now the productive
marvel of mankind. ...
seek further tax reductionand in the process we need to remove
inequities in our present tax laws. In particular we should carefully
review all our excise taxes and eliminate those that are obsolete.
Consideration should be given to the development of fiscal policies
which would provide revenue sources to hard-pressed state and local
governments to assist them with their responsibilities.
penny of Federal spending must be accounted for in terms of the
strictest economy, efficiency and integrity. We pledge to continue a
frugal government, getting a dollar's value for a dollar spent, and a
government worthy of the citizen's confidence.
Our goal is a balanced budget in a balanced economy.
Wow. That Ayn Rand-worshiping Ryan fellow is crazy!
Oh, wait. My apologies; the quotes above were all taken from the 1960 and 1964 Democratic Party Platforms. How did that happen? Whoops. Well, consider it a quick journey down memory lane.
I actually started writing this post three days ago, not long after
the news broke that the most right-wing, narrow-minded conservative in
the history of the world had been chosen by Mitt Romney as
vice-president candidate for the "Hate the Women!" party (yes, I'm
struggling to control the sarcasm). A man so radical that in the early
1960s he would have been reasonably positioned and perceived as a
moderate to conservative Democrat. A man so far to the Extreme Right
that he is re-elected on a regular basisby substantial marginsin a
district that voted for Obama in 2008. Chew on that for a few seconds
and then ask yourself, "Do the Dallas Cowboys have a shot at the Super
Bowl this year? How much has changed in the U.S. in the past fifty
I had intended to write a 20,000-word essay about the Righteous
Rebukes of the Radical Ryan, but have decided to instead highlight some
of the several dozen articles and posts I've read about the topic,
adding in a few thoughts of my own. Prepare for analysis, brilliance,
sarcasm, typos, and opinions galore. Here goes!
I will give pride of place to a prelate, Bishop Robert C. Morlino, who is Ryan's bishop. Bishop Morlino's column, "Subsidiarity, solidarity, and the lay mission",
was posted today and is must reading for anyone curious as to why an
Objectivist puppet (sorry, more sarcasm) such as Ryan should be taken
seriously as a Catholic, politician, and VP candidate. Several excellent
points are made, including the baseline fact that moral principles come
before social doctrine; that is, if you are pursuing policies (say,
advocating more contraceptives and abortions) that are contrary to the
moral teachings of the Church, you need to lay off the appeals to
"social justice" and "common good" because you clearly aren't interested
in accurately conveying what they are:
the role of bishops and priests to teach principles of our faith, such
that those who seek elected offices, if they are Catholics, are to form
their consciences according to these principles about particular
the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is
different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature
or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most
fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as
follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death,
marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to
of the above involve intrinsic evil that is, an evil which cannot be
justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of
direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned
as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish
to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the
above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion,
euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage,
government-coerced secularism, and socialism.
With those principles in place, Bishop Morlino notes, there is a lot
of room for debate, dialogue, and conversationand even compromise.
looks at issues such as the two mentioned above and seeks to apply the
principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholics and others of good
will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about
the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the
best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our
country. No one is contesting here anyone’s right to the basic needs of
food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting
someone’s right to work and so provide for self and family. However
there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles
which the Church offers.
This is, to put it simply, the thing that drives a lot of Catholics
(across the spectrum) over the edge: the fact that Catholic social
doctrine allows for a wide range of prudential judgments when it comes
to, well, a lot of issues: taxes, economics, etc., etc. But it seems to
drive progressive Catholics especially nuts because they have a serious
problem: many of them support contraceptives, abortion, assisted
suicide, same-sex marriage, Yanni, and so forth, but wish to appear as
if they are the true-blue Catholics when it comes to caring for the poor
(despite conservatives giving more money to charities), caring for the
poor (despite supporting abortions of poor, unborn children), and caring
for the poor (okay, you get the picture).
The key point here is that if Paul Ryan says, as he has, that he is a
proponent of Catholic social doctrine, that he is a serious Catholic,
and that he wants to apply his beliefs to prudent policies and political
measures, it behooves people of good will to accept him as his word.
(After all, we were told repeatedly in 2007 and 2008 that Barack Obama
was a pro-life, pro-Catholic candidateand to deny it was to epitome of
narrow-minded partisanship.) Then, with that established, raise
legitimate points of criticism about how Ryan apparently applies the
principles he appeals to. But, of course, there are a lot of people who
don't care too much about good will, and who would rather paint Ryan in
terms that they would likely never use in writing about an guilty
Islamicist terrorist. For example, Charles Pierce gleefully lets the
cat out of the bag in a piece titled, "Murderer of Opportunity, Political Coward, Candidate for Vice President of the United States", which includes these (ahem!) measure points:
In his decision to make Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from
Wisconsin, his running mate, Romney finally surrendered the tattered
remnants of his soul not only to the extreme base of his party, but also
to extremist economic policies, and to an extremist view of the
country he seeks to lead."
Paul Ryan is an authentically dangerous zealot. He does not want to
reform entitlements. He wants to eliminate them. He wants to eliminate
them because he doesn't believe they are a legitimate function of
government. He is a smiling, aw-shucks murderer of opportunity, a
creator of dystopias in which he never will have to live. This now is an
argument not over what kind of political commonwealth we will have,
but rather whether or not we will have one at all, because Paul Ryan
does not believe in the most primary institution of that commonwealth:
any way that will come to matter to the people whose lives his policies
will make harder and more miserable, Paul Ryan is still the
high-school kid living off Social Security survivor benefits and reading
Ayn Rand by flashlight under the sheets. Instead, he's a guy
pretending to be something he's not, and doing so back in Janesville in
a very swell Georgian mansion, which just happens to be listed on the
National Register of Historic Places."
Michael Sean Winters, who writes for a publication with "Catholic" in its masthead, is a bit more circumspect (What? No use of the word "crazy"?):
"Mitt Romney’s choice of Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate
is electrifying. But, electricity is dangerous at times and, in this
instance, Ryan is standing in a pool of watery dissent from Catholic
Social Teaching that has existed on the Catholic right for some time."
(Note: several of Winter's assertions about William F. Buckley are taken to the woodshed in this NRO article.]
Of course, being lectured by someone from NCReporter about
"dissent" is like being lectured by a fast-food junkie about "eating
healthy". Winters continues: "Mr. Ryan has taken to invoking Catholic
Social Teaching, and especially the concept of subsidiarity, to defend
his budgetary schemes. Alas, he could not tell the difference between
subsidiarity and sausage." We now know that Mr. Winters is adept at weak
metaphorselectricity! water! sausage! Beyond that, we learn little
else. Actually, I think any reasonable person recognizes that Ryan knows
what subsidiarity is; Winters' problem is that he confuses his
preferred application to it to Ryan's applicationprobably because most
progressive Catholics think they own social doctrine. Ryan, in a April 10, 2012, television interview, said the following (without a teleprompter or notes):
the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning
government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of
the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations,
through our churches, through our charities, through all of our
different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's
how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out
civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we
can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and
out in our communities.
Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option
for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social
teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on
government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help
people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.
That is a very sound and Catholic explanation of subsidiarity. Yet Winters snarks:
Ryan were advocating innovative local and state programs to help the
poor, his pleas for less federal spending might be credible. As it is,
he is not. He wishes to slash federal spending on programs that help
the poor so he can provide the super-rich with more tax breaks and hope
that the miracle of the Unseen Hand of the Market will fix every social
ill. Did he sleep through the autumn of 2008? Does he really believe
that the market can fix everything?
Ooh, I can smell the sausage burning! Perhaps Winters had this in mind:
is something wrong with our government transfer programs if they are
increasingly steering assistance to the wealthy, while at the same time
growing at unsustainable rates. The looming bankruptcy of the federal
government, which would shred the social safety net, is the greatest
threat these programs face. Lamentably, this study shows that the threat
is being intensified as a direct result of the government spending
money it doesn’t have on higher-income Americans who don’t need it. ...
prudent course of action for policymakers would be to advance sensible
reforms to the unsustainable benefit structure of these programs so that
government is doing a better job of directing assistance to those that
need it most, while giving less help to households that need it least.
For Social Security, the Bowles-Simpson Commission on Fiscal
Responsibility and Reform laid the groundwork by outlining reforms that
would reduce the growth in benefits for higher-income workers. For
Medicare, the House-passed budget, The Path to Prosperity,
proposed no changes for those currently in or near retirement, but for
future generations, it proposed a premium-support system that provides
more help for the poor and the sick, and less help for the wealthy.
Sausage! Pure watery, electric sausage!
Actually, instead of letting conservative-bashing,
Republican-despising Winters speak for Ryan, why not let Ryan speak for
Ryan (I know, it's not how progressives usually operate, but I'm not a
progressive)? Here is an excerpt from a recent Ryan essay, "Who Built America?", on the American Spectator site:
successful individual knows that his or her achievement requires a
community of persons working together. We strengthen our bonds with
each other as we offer our unique gifts to others. Customers reward the
best and most efficient producers by buying their products and
services. We work to advance the common good through our free
association with each other, not because a coercive government directs
our actions. Each human being has inherent dignity and unique gifts.
Individuals thrive as they voluntarily share those gifts and talents
with each other, in mutual assistance to meet their neighbors' needs.
We could never do this if we were isolated individuals as caricatured
in the president's distorted view of America's commitment to free
course government has a critical role to play in establishing neutral
rules that enable open competition, and in securing peace and order
with courts, a standard currency, defense forces, first responders,
teachers, infrastructure, and a safety net for the most vulnerable.
can help create the space for innovation and prosperity, but
government can not fill that space. Activist government overreach and
ongoing economic stagnation have shown us why Washington should never
try to displace what is best left to civil society.
are pernicious side effects from Washington's ever-increasing intrusion
into sectors of our economy and into aspects of our lives.
Big-government economics breeds crony capitalism. It's corrupt,
anything but neutral, and a barrier to broad participation in
prosperity. Both political parties have been guilty of this trend. Most
recently, Washington has pursued polices that pick winners and losers
in specific sectors of our economy, and that favor well-connected
corporations and union bosses with bureaucratic access, tax loopholes,
and regulatory waivers. Think Solyndra, bankrupt after a $500 million
taxpayer guarantee, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which continue to
stifle the recovery while draining billions from the Treasury.
moral case for individual initiative in a free economy holds that people
have a God-given right to use their creativity to produce things that
improve their lives. A free economy and strong communities honor the
dignity of every person, reward effort with justice, promote upward
mobility, and build solidarity among citizens. The president's vision of
a collective, government-centered society -- reflected in his
troubling rhetoric and failed policies -- divides class against class
and belittles fair rewards for workers, entrepreneurs, and investors --
those who have built America into the greatest nation in the history
Read the entire piece. Then read, say, Centesimus annus, and see how they compare.
In other words, the case can be reasonably made that Ryan's
position is a moderate one between statism and "slash-and-burn"
approaches that would seek to defund and do away with large swaths of
the federal government. The most intensive, spittle-spewing attacks on
Ryan tell us much more about where the far left is and wishes to be than
it does about Ryan's actual positions. (The fact is, not a few
political conservatives think Ryan doesn't go far enough in his
budget.) In his NYTImes' column, "Why Moderates Should Like Paul Ryan", Ross Douthat writes:
budget has plenty of faults, to be sure. But some of its more obvious
problems reflect his party’s continuing deficiencies rather than
budget repeals the health care bill without replacing it, for instance,
not because Ryan doesn’t have a substantial alternative in mind (he
continues to support a version of the bill he sponsored with Tom
Coburn), but because too many of his fellow congressmen remained
unwilling to take the plunge into specificity on that issue.
the Ryan budget holds discretionary spending below the realm of
plausibility in part because he couldn’t persuade his fellow
Republicans to sign on to Social Security reform, which Ryan himself
has repeatedly endorsed.
budget’s proposed tax reform, meanwhile, specifies new lower rates but
not the deductions and loopholes that would be closed to pay for them.
But Ryan clearly has an idea of which deductions he would cap and which
shelters he would eliminate. He just hasn’t persuaded his fellow
lawmakers to shoulder the political risks involved in getting specific.
all, then, on a series of difficult policy questions, Ryan has either
pushed his party in a politically risky but more responsible direction
(on Medicare reform) or else endorsed the riskier but more responsible
approach himself (on health care and Social Security reform). He has
twisted arms when arm-twisting was possible and flown solo when it
seemed necessary. To the extent that there is a plausible Republican
response to the Obama agenda, he’s the biggest reason it exists.
Read it all.
What about the Ayn Rand elephant in the Ryan room? It's a good
question and very legitimate one. I think some conservative commentators
have been too quick to discount this thorny issue. I also recognize
they are responding, in some cases, to claims that Ryan is a Rand
disciple like no other, as if the man has an Ayn Rand icon corner set up
in his office. Yet it is also the case that Ryan has expressed great
admiration for aspects of Rand's thought in the past, as in this 2005 address given to The Atlas Society:
grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am
and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me
so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and
my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged
[laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but
then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.
"I always go back to... Francisco d’Anconia’s speech [in Atlas Shrugged] on money when I think about monetary policy."
But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had
to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight
we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism
My own dislike for Rand began when I was given one of her novels (The Fountainhead,
I think) by a librarian when I was in high school. I read about half of
it and then ditched it, thinking it was poorly written, dull, and
dislikable (otherwise, it was great!). I've never wavered from that
initial impression (fortunately, I was reading Solzhenitsyn, Brave New World, Ray Bradbury, and 1984 while in high school).
So I am somewhat mystified by the number of people who are taken with
her writing. But, having mulled it over the years, I've come to the
following conclusion: for many teenage readers, Rand was the first
writer who outlined and then critiqued totalitarianism, group think, and
statism. In addition, Rand tapped into the teenage angst regarding
being, well, an individual in a society that often seems impersonal,
cold, and downright dislikable for many teens. Rand, then, is a heretic
(I use that term loosely, not necessarily theologically) who gets a few,
important things right (or nearly right), and does so in a way that is
appealing to certain readers.
When Ryan speaks of Rand, he focuses on two things: individualism vs.
collectivism, and capitalism vs. statism. A lot of hay has been made of
this, and part of it seems to be because critics don't bother to
present how Rand herself defined "individualism" and "collectivism", and
so they present Ryan as an emotionally-challenged, hyper-individualist
who has no interest in helping his neighbor or having a government that
helps those in need. But Rand defined "individualism" in this way:
regards manevery manas an independent, sovereign entity who possesses
an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature
as a rational being. Individualism holds that a civilized society, or
any form of association, cooperation or peaceful coexistence among men,
can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual
rightsand that a group, as such, has no rights other than the
individual rights of its members.
make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a
man who says: “I’ll do as I please at everybody else’s expense.” An
individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights
of manhis own and those of others. ... An individualist is a man who
says: “I will not run anyone’s lifenor let anyone run mine. I will not
rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master nor a slave. I will not
sacrifice myself to anyonenor sacrifice anyone to myself.”
Without a basis in a transcendent goodthat is, GodRand's views
don't hold up well (for instance: who, then, grants "inalienable
individual rights" if there is no one greater than man?). Rand was not a good philosopher. But she communicated some meaningful things with some adeptness. And her understandings of the individual in relation to society as well as her notion of personal rights are hardly outrageous. As for collectivism, Rand described it as "statism", that is, the belief that the State is the End and Goal of human existence:
holds that, in human affairs, the collectivesociety, the community,
the nation, the proletariat, the race, etc.is the unit of reality and the standard of value. On this view, the individual has reality only as part of the group, and value only insofar as he serves it. ..
holds that the individual has no rights, that his life and work belong
to the group . . . and that the group may sacrifice him at its own whim
to its own interests. The only way to implement a doctrine of that kind
is by means of brute forceand statism has always been the political corollary of collectivism.
surprisingly, some of Ryan's critics have been so eager to paint him as
an Objectivist disciple that they have either ignored or misrepresented
both Rand's beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In a
Salon.com piece, "Ayn Rand vs. the pope",
Matthew Harwood seeks mightily to describe how "the two contradictory
philosophies" are "warring for Paul Ryan's soul". In doing so, he makes
some dubious, even embarrassingly incorrect, assertions:
naturally begs the question of how a devout Catholic can follow the
social justice theology of the church yet also idolize an atheist that
preached the “virtue of selfishness.” Somehow in Paul Ryan’s mind, Jesus
Christ and Ayn Rand are complementary figures, not warring factions in
defining how an individual should lead a moral life.
It's not clear how Harwood was able to invade Ryan's mind, but it might have been helpful if he pointed out how Rand defined "selfishness".
Which is not to defend said definition, but merely to note that she
doesn't define it as most people do, instead seeing it as proper
self-interest and the rightful pursuit of self-preservation. A bigger
point, however, is that Christians are often criticized for not
appreciating and investigating the beliefs of othersbut when Ryan, a
Catholic, expresses admiration for some of Rand's views, he's presented
not as an open-minded, nuanced thinker, but a schizophrenic loon. I
suspect, however, that if Ryan expressed admiration for Marx or some
notable socialist thinker, he might not hear as much criticism about
those author's "anti-Christian, atheistic" beliefs.
Harwood's sloppiness with definitions is also evident here:
cynical to ask whether Ryan, seeing his career trajectory in
ascendancy, chose to not alienate his socially conservative Christian
base by repudiating a marginal philosophy he repeatedly touted in the
past. But by doing so, he calls into question his intellectual honesty,
particularly since his new intellectual role model, Thomas Aquinas, had
a habit of writing collectivist things too: “Man should not consider
his material possession his own, but as common to all, so as to share
them without hesitation when others are in need.”
Needless to say, Aquinas was not a collectivist as Rand used the
term, nor was Aquinas a statist. In fact, Harwood's facile appeal to
Aquinas is quite laughable; he would do well to read the entire section of the Summa, which is about as non-collectivist as one can be; actually, it is quite damning of collectivism!
answer that, Two things are competent to man in respect of exterior
things. One is the power to procure and dispense them, and in this
regard it is lawful for man to possess property. Moreover this is
necessary to human life for three reasons. First because every man is
more careful to procure what is for himself alone than that which is
common to many or to all: since each one would shirk the labor and leave
to another that which concerns the community, as happens where there is
a great number of servants. Secondly, because human affairs are
conducted in more orderly fashion if each man is charged with taking
care of some particular thing himself, whereas there would be confusion
if everyone had to look after any one thing indeterminately. Thirdly,
because a more peaceful state is ensured to man if each one is contented
with his own. Hence it is to be observed that quarrels arise more
frequently where there is no division of the things possessed.
Harwood also butchers this one:
enough, though, there is one rare area where the modern Catholic
Church and Ayn Rand agree, and that’s the immorality of war.
Unfortunately, this is the one area where Ryan breaks rank with both his
intellectual models. Not only did Ryan vote in favor of the Iraq War,
his budget proposal increases defense spending.
Apparently he is unfamiliar with a little thing known as the "just war" doctrine, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church helpfully spells out by first stating, "All
citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of
war" before stating, "However, 'as long as the danger of war persists
and there is no international authority with the necessary competence
and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful
self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.'" (par 2308; see pars
2308-17). Was the Iraq War a "just war"? That's debatable. What is not
debatable is that Harwood is completely wrong about the moral qualities of
While some have blasted Ryan for holding too
tightly to Randian beliefs and thus advocating a sort of heartless,
neo-libertartianism, others take the tack of blasting Ryan for not
following Rand closely enough when it comes to "civil liberties". Ben Adler, writing for The Nation, argues that Ryan is just a heartless jerk, no matter what the topic:
is true that Ryan, like his mentor Jack Kemp, subscribes to Rand’s
heartless belief in refusing to aid the less fortunate. But Ryan does
not share any of Rand’s commitments to freedom, other than the freedom
to be selfish. ...
Gay rights: Ryan has voted in favor of amending the US Constitution to
ban gay marriage. He supported banning gay marriage in Wisconsin and
opposed letting gay soldiers serve openly in the military. It is
impossible to support individual freedom and limited government while
trying to amend the Constitution to take away the rights of consenting
adults to marry the person they love, and to take away the rights of
more civilized states to recognize such unions.
Reproductive rights: Ryan has all the usual right-wing positions on
abortion. He has voted to ban federal funding of abortions and even for
training healthcare providers in abortion care. He also opposes
requiring insurers to provide coverage for contraception. ...
it be pointed out, again, that Catholic social doctrine rests on
certain moral absolutes, including the inviolable dignity of human life
("Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment
of conception." CCC 2270), the fact that marriage is between a man and a
woman, and that the very notion of "same-sex marriage" is absurd?
As expected, the Obama administration has already presented the "fact"
that "Paul Ryan would take us backward on women’s health" by virtue of
Ryan's outrageous belief that the unborn are actually people who have
the right to life. In the words of ABC News, "Ryan is firmly against
abortion rights." Clearly the man from Wisconsin doesn't realize that only 50% of Americans consider themselves "pro-life" while a whopping 41% identify as "pro-choice". He's so out of touch!
Back to the topic of Ryan and Thomism, I recommend the essay, "Evaluating Paul Ryan’s “Thomism”, by Joseph Trabbic. A snippet:
think that when Ryan endorses Aquinas in the above quote a lot of
people have taken him to mean that his (Ryan’s) economic, social, and
political views (and not just his epistemology) are Thomistic or at
least that we can legitimately evaluate them from a Thomistic
standpoint. This is how it seems that an author named “Joan” at the Subversive Thomism blog and Ed Kilgore at the The Washington Monthly interpret Ryan.
would we go about evaluating Ryan’s economic, social, and political
views from a Thomistic perspective? An obvious starting point would be
to look at how these views square with Aquinas’s teaching on natural
law since it is this teaching that informs Aquinas’s own views in these
areas. So, I hope you will bear with me while I give a
brief-all-too-brief account of Aquinas’s natural law doctrine as I
understand it. Those of you who would just prefer to go straight to my
conclusion can skip this part. (Scroll down to the heading: “Is Paul
Ryan a Thomist?”)
Also worth reading: "Critics say VP Candidate Paul Ryan’s Catholicism Undermined by Atheist Philosopher" by Andrew Walker for the Institute on Relligion & Democracy website.
And what about the oft-repeated claim that Ryan's budget has been
dismissed and deemed immoral by the U.S. bishops? That is based on a May 8th letter to the House of Representatives by Bp. Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, which said the following about the Ryan budget:
Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits
our country faces, and we acknowledge that Congress must make difficult
decisions about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance
resources and needs. However, deficit reduction and fiscal
responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor
and vulnerable people. The proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
states it is the proper role of government to “make accessible to each
what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work,
education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a
family, and so on” (no. 1908). Poor and vulnerable people do not have
powerful lobbyists to advocate their interests, but they have the most
compelling needs. (emphasis added)
From what I understand, the
"proposed cuts" are in rate of growthnot in actual cuts to existing
funds. More importantly, in my opinion, Bp. Blaire's opinion on this
matter is neither magisterial or even helpful (heaven help us if letters
from individual bishopswho are not Popeare infallible!). As
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann told me in this June 29, 2012, CWR interview:
cannot simply propose things that are going to increase the debt, and
we need to be a responsible voice in the discussion. That was one of my
concerns about the criticisms of Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. I don’t
think his proposal is perfect and I think it can be criticized, but I
was specifically upset because there were letters sent by the committee
[the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development] that spoke
about aspects of his proposal being immoral, and I think that was an
overstating. We can be critical of aspects of it, but I think Ryan
offered a legitimate proposal that was trying to respond to human needs
that are there as well as to the national debt, which can also be a
great injustice if we pass that on to our children and grandchildren.
there is the fact that the Senate, on the other side, has offered
nothing, hasn’t offered a budget. So here, at least, is a proposal, and I
think that Representative Ryan makes a case as to how this proposal can
be consistent with Catholic principles. Now, whether it is the right
proposal or the best proposal, I don’t claim to know. But I think it is
wrong to call it “immoral”as opposed to saying how it is really
irresponsible for the Senate to not even put a proposal out there while
simply sitting back and criticizing the only viable proposal that has
been put forward by the Congress at this point.
Rev. Thomas V.
Berg, in a May 11, 2012 essay for the Public Discourse website, argued
that the Ryan budget is indeed in keeping with Catholic social doctrine,
and expressed frustration with the status quo regarding federal welfare
mistake that some Catholic leaders made in 1995 and 1996 is the same
mistake some seem to be making today, which is to equate more federal
spending on programs for the poor with the morally superlative approach
from the perspective of Catholic social teaching.
thinking is oddly negligent of a pillar of Catholic social thought,
namely, that no institution is more vital to a healthy society than
intact families, with married fathers and mothers raising their
children together. Unfortunately, over the past half century, we have
witnessed the near total destruction of the family in low-income
neighborhoods all across Americaneighborhoods in which federal
anti-poverty support is ubiquitous. Today, out-of-wedlock births are the
norm in these communities, not the exception, with more than 70
percent of African-American children born to unwed mothers.
truth is that the implosion of the nuclear family has coincided
precisely with the ramping up of federal low-income assistance programs
since the 1960s. Why? Certainly the breakdown of the family is a
complex social phenomenon, with many causes. But there’s little doubt
that large-scale federal assistance to low-income households with
single parents and dependent children has contributed to the
destruction. In effect, the federal government has underwritten massive
irresponsibility on the part of low-income fathers. They don’t need to
act responsibly because the federal government has woven together a
massive financial assistance system for single mothers with kids. The
result is that multiple generations of low-income Americans have now
grown up in neighborhoods almost entirely bereft of a responsible male
This is not a success story to be defended at all costs, especially from the perspective of Catholic social teaching.
Read his excellent essay, "Catholic Social Teaching and the Ryan Budget".
And here is part of the landscape that doesn't seem to be improving: An August 13th USA Today article notes:
Americans don't believe GOP
presidential contender Mitt Romney hit a home run with his choice of
Paul Ryan as a running mate, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, with more of
the public giving him lower marks than high ones.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, is
seen as only a "fair" or "poor" choice by 42% of Americans vs. 39% who
think he is an "excellent" or "pretty good" vice presidential choice.
Oh, goodness! Is it because those polled have read Ryan's budget?
Have followed his career closely? Have compared his proposals and
principles to those of others? Uh, probably none of those, considering
this little bit of information:
isn't well-known. More than half of those surveyed, 53%, say they have
never heard of him or don't know enough to have an opinion. Among those
who do, 27% give him a favorable rating, 21% an unfavorable one. By
50%-31%, voters say Ryan is qualified to serve as president.
we don't know anything about you or what you believe, but we don't
think you'd be good at whatever it is that you are trying to do!" How depressing.
I'm so glad the media is digging into Ryan's beliefs, principles, and
ideological patterns. I was beginning to wonder if they had forgotten
how to do that when it came to presidential and vice-presidential
candidates. Just remember, Ryan's radical, despicable goal is a is a balanced budget in a balanced economyjust like the Democrats of the 1960s!