Having failed his economics exam, Paul Ryan is now majoring in theology. His Robin-Hood-in-reverse economics—steal from the poor to give to the rich—scared even a lot of Republicans. So Ryan has been born again as a preacher of “Catholic social doctrine.” Catholic moral teaching is “indispensable for officeholders,” he told his readers in the well circulated Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor. Quoting pope after pope, and, of course, his enabler friend Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, theologian Ryan shows that if you squeeze Catholic social teaching in just the right way, out comes the Ryan federal budget plan for 2012, “The Path to Prosperity.” That budget plan, which among other things, would scuttle Medicare and unleash the dogs of greed, is now not just sound, but holy.
Fortunately Ryan’s sermon was not written in a college theology exam or he would have gotten a failing grade and a letter sent to his parents saying this student is not serious and is wasting your tuition money.
Sadly, though, Ryan is serious.
His mission is to further the corruption of conservatism. “Conservative” is not a dirty word. Dwight Eisenhower was a good conservative when he warned about the heist being pulled off on the American people by the “military-industrial” complex, a heist that is ongoing, and dripping in the blood of undeclared foreign wars. Teddy Roosevelt was a good conservative when he pioneered ecological sanity as was Abraham Lincoln when he took on slavery and supported state sponsored banks to encourage development, improve infrastructure and public education. Nelson Rockefeller was being a good conservative when he said pregnant women, not government officials, should be in charge of their own pregnancies.
But “conservativism” has hit the moral basement and Paul Ryan wants to further debase it and to do so under the banner of “Catholic social teaching.” He would tie the popes to the mean stream of a corrupt conservativism. Only political amnesia will allow him to succeed. Recalling forgotten facts is the cure for the amnesia that grips most of the American electorate and prompts them to vote against their own interests. For a salutary memory check, listen to a real theologian, Professor Obery Hencricks:
“Conservative politicians opposed at their inception Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment compensation, the right to form labor unions, government guaranteed student loans, child labor laws, the minimum wage, workplace safety regulations, guaranteed bank and savings deposits, oversight to insure the purity of our food and drugs, the environmental protection movements, the Equal Rights Amendment, civil rights legislation, even anti-lynching legislation. Indeed, conservative have opposed virtually every policy that might narrow the gap between rich and poor, particularly taxation of the wealthy.”
Now hear this Paul Imposter Ryan: Catholic Social teaching was and is on the opposite side of the “conservatives” on every one of those issues. Catholic social teaching at its best is at one with Jesus’ mission to be “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). And you, Paul Ryan, along with your Catholic co-conspirator John Boehner, are lackeys for the rich as you sing songs of comfort into their eager ears. Shame on you!
The Subsidiarity Error
Ryan and other right wing religion-users love what the popes call “subsidiarity.” Careful, guys!! That word is going to bite your grasping hands.
Subsidiarity means in Catholic thought that individual creativity and responsibility should not be crushed by an overbearing force. That oppressive force could be a totalitarian state, or (and this is what the neo-conservatives miss) it could be corporate “monopolies,” as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says. Unregulated corporate power can be just as disempowering as a dictatorial state. Look what it led to 1929 and 2008. Crushing Medicare and Medicaid to allow insurance companies to monopolize, control, and effectively ration health care—as Ryan’s ilk want—violates subsidiarity… as well as social justice and basic human decency.
Secondly, as Pope Paul VI said in Octogesima Adveniens, the purpose of subsidiarily is to broaden participation. Current Republican efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to complicate and limit voting rights violates papal teaching on subsidiarity and the moral duty of the state to make voting easier. The Michigan governor’s plan to use claimed financial exigency to displace elected officials in favor of a state-appointed ruler, is a mortal sin against subsidiarity and traditional Republicanism.
To say all this is necessary and justified because of Catholic social teaching is an outrage and a damned lie.
Ryan’s Two Dirty Words
Government and taxes. Bad, bad, bad in Ryan’s gospel. They are not bad in the Bible. The apostle Paul said pay “taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due” (Rom: 13:7). As the Catholic Compendium says: “Jesus does not consider it unjust to pay taxes to Caesar.” Taxes are an act of social justice and a necessary contribution to the common good. That is why it is immoral not to allow corporations and the very wealthy to pay their fair share. It literally de-moralizes them.
In biblical thinking, government has the duty to be the prime caretaker of the common good, with particular concern for the poor and the powerless. Nothing bad or radical about that. But oh how Ryan fears and belittles government. Strange, isn’t it, how he wants to make a career of it. He abhors “government control over the health care sector.” Wouldn’t it be special if Paul Ryan, in an unaccustomed burst of integrity, rejected the national health care benefits he denies to others but gets and relishes as a member of Congress. It would be such a Catholic thing to do!