The Georgetown gang that couldn’t think straight.
(Page 2 of 3)
Ryan continued the discussion in a thoughtful interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN, again (on April 19) doing so with respect and humility (as recounted by Kathryn Lopez):
These budgetary debates “are matters for prudential judgment.… People of good will can have differences of opinion on these kinds of issues — there’s plenty of room to disagree about how to advance the common good, advance these principles.” That’s what the laity in public life are called to do. Ryan is not presenting himself as the poster boy for Catholic social thought, but as a Catholic in public life taking Catholic moral principles seriously. “I cannot claim exclusive justification for my political philosophy and point of view on economics using the social magisterium any more than a liberal can for theirs,” Ryan said.
Ryan had stressed these points for a full year, in just this tone of utmost respect. So what can account for the fury and nastiness of the GU professors’ letter?
THE LETTER BEGAN politely and respectfully enough, but in the first sentence of the second paragraph it went straight for the jugular: “However, we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.” They didn’t disagree with him, they “challenge[d] him.” They didn’t strive to convince him he was wrong; they announced categorically that he had “misuse[d]” Catholic teaching. And they accused him of promoting a plan that did a series of dastardly things (none of which it does — but more on that shortly).
Then came this bit of histrionic and flagrantly dishonest character assassination: “In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”
First, Ryan has flat-out denied that Rand is his “favorite philosopher,” or that he agrees with her selfishness and antagonism toward religion. Like many other prominent figures, he has often credited Rand with inspiring him in important ways about the virtues of individual liberty, and has insisted that she is right to say there is a morality in free markets — but he also long has cited several other intellectual influences and has for years spoken and written about the duty owed to the poor (while also maintaining a devout personal Catholicism). In fact, one of his biggest arguments is that the current entitlement system sends too small a percentage of benefits to the poor:
[T]he structure of some of our largest entitlement programs has decreased the share of government transfer payments going to lower-income households and increased the share going to wealthier seniors…. A 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.
All of this information about Ryan’s views was readily available before the professors’ April 24 letter. In their zeal to draw blood, however, the faculty ignored it and distorted his views along with his budget. Their vitriol continues in accusations that he proposes “gutting government programs,” “abandoning the poor to their own devices,” and “walk[ing] away from the most vulnerable.” These accusations are, to put it mildly, poppycock.
The principles of subsidiarity, generational responsibility, and dangers of the welfare state, all emphasized by Pope John Paul II, are meant to be and indeed are far more readily understandable by a reasonably informed layman than are the arcane and complicated workings of the federal budget. Perhaps, then, the Hoya 90 are just plain ignorant about the latter. But I challenge them to show how the Ryan budget would “decimate… radically weaken protections for… gut [or] … abandon” the poor, the sick, or the elderly.
Do these ivory-basement would-be philosophes not understand the difference between slashing a program and, on the other hand, letting it rise only slightly faster than inflation rather than substantially faster than inflation? Do they not know that even under the Ryan plan, benefits to the poor would continue to rise? Do they not know that his proposal for Medicaid is based on the successful welfare reform proposal that Congress badgered Bill Clinton into signing in 1996, after which poverty rates substantially decreased (as did some key social pathologies) even as the government spent less money? Do they not know that his proposals for Medicare reform mirror the system already used for Medicare Part D, which has worked like a charm to keep premiums about 40 percent below original projections? Do they not know that his entitlement proposals across the board are means-tested to a greater degree, in favor of those at lower incomes, than current law allows?
And, of course, all of this works off a domestic spending baseline higher than at any time in American history, rather than from a condition of federal penuriousness. Let’s take a good baseline year for non-security discretionary spending. Consider the fiscal year 2000 — when the decidedly empathetic, “feel-your-pain” specialist Bill Clinton was president and had broken the budgetary will of the Republican Congress, when spending levels were plenty high enough to keep poverty rates historically low while the “social safety net” was perfectly strong — and when Democratic senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bob Kerrey were touting a Medicare proposal almost identical to the one Paul Ryan is suggesting now. Domestic discretionary spending then was $283.58 billion. Allow for six percent population growth over the next decade and the baseline would be $300.56 billion. Now apply the government’s official inflation calculator for the last 12 years and the equivalent amount of social spending is $400.23 billion. Almost nobody in the year 2000 would have said that, 12 years later, that Clinton-level baseline of $400 billion would amount to a gutting, a slashing, a hard-hearted dismantling of government obligations to the poor.
Yet in 2012, that same apples-to-apples comparison of non-security discretionary spending stands not just at $400 billion, but at $525.66 billion. That’s a 32.3 percent increase in government generosity, even after taking population growth and inflation into account. (In just four years, Pell Grants have increased by 20 percent. More dramatically still, food stamp spending from 2002 to 2012 has risen by an astonishing 270 percent.) For Paul Ryan now to ask merely for a slowdown in the rate of growth (not an absolute cut) from the current, historically extravagant levels of spending is hardly for him to be trying to effectuate “values… antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion as love,” despite the ludicrous and scurrilous claims in the professors’ letter.
Read the entirety of the letter and the tone is that of a Dickensian orphanage proprietor taking a paddle to a horribly delinquent child. There is no room for discussion, none for honest disagreement, none for mutual respect; it’s just (an attempt at) a sneering smack-down from self-appointed societal betters against an uppity inferior who knows not his place. Weigel was right in his column to call their attitude “chippy, even ugly.”
Against this ugliness, Ryan himself stayed classy and constructive. The idea he said in his speech in Georgetown’s Gaston Hall, is to “revitalize civil society instead of displacing it…. We aim to empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals — those closest to the problem. And we aim to promote opportunity and upward mobility by strengthening job training programs, to help those who have fallen on hard times.” And, specifically related to his faith, he said: “Serious problems like those we face today require charitable conversation. Civil public dialogue goes to the heart of solidarity, the virtue that does not divide society into classes and groups but builds up the common good of all.”
Remember that it was Ryan who reached out to Archbishop Dolan, not vice-versa — and privately, not for some sort of publicity stunt — just three days short of a year before his speech at Georgetown. This is a man of moral seriousness, doing exactly as his faith requires him to do: trying, with his deep knowledge of his professional subject, to apply the teachings of that faith to his professional conduct.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?