Paul Ryan: Good for Republicans, Bad for America

Millennial writer John McCarthy has a new article at NCR. He writes:

His past leadership should give us a clear picture of what we can expect from a Speaker Ryan: doubling down on the failed notion that supporting the rich will allow everyone else to prosper. This has not only been disproven countless times—but is at stark odds with who we are as a people of faith….

Our history is shared with that of the immigrant, the union worker, and the middle class family. The notion that our nation was built by “rugged individualists” is false—we are built on communities who looked out for each other.

I believe this is what Americans so deeply crave: a return to strong, caring communities. We share a vision for policies that bring people together, rather than pit them against each other. Unfortunately, no one could be further from that vision than Speaker Paul Ryan.

The full article can be read here.


Around the Web (Part 1)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Who cares about the value of work? by EJ Dionne: “One of last week’s most important and least noted political events was the introduction of the 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray favors a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour, but she also has other ideas that would help Americans at the bottom of the income structure to earn more.”

Chinese parents, trapped in one-child web, give babies away on Internet by Reuters: “Baby trafficking has been encouraged by the one-child policy and a traditional bias for sons, who support elderly parents and continue the family name, leading to the abandonment of girls. Even as China starts to relax the one-child policy, allowing millions of families to have a second child, it still penalizes people who flout the rules.”

The Christian Penumbra by Ross Douthat: “For believers, meanwhile, the Christian penumbra’s pathologies could just be seen as a kind of theological vindication — proof, perhaps, of the New Testament admonition that it’s much worse to be lukewarm than hot or cold. But it’s better to regard these problems as a partial indictment of America’s churches: Not only because their failure to reach the working class and the younger generation is making the penumbra steadily bigger, but because a truly healthy religious community should be capable of influencing even the loosely attached somewhat for the better.”

Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: 25 Years of Image by Dan Wakefield: “Though I pray in some form or other every day I had not for a while thought of doing what Henri had asked—no words, simply sitting quietly and asking to be in the presence of Jesus. I did that yesterday, and I felt a great peace.”

Paul Ryan + Immoral Budgets = Public Service Award from a Catholic university? by John Gehring: “Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals have been challenged in recent years by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prominent Catholic theologians, a “Nuns on the Bus” tour and respected anti-poverty experts. When your guiding ideology seems to be making life harder for the working poor and coddling the super rich with more tax breaks, you better expect some moral scrutiny along the way.”

Icons of faith who said ‘yes’ by OSV Newsweekly: “OSV staff highlights four saints who answered God’s call no matter what.”

To the Edges by Erin Cline: “My grandmother taught me that God’s love is made visible in the world not in grand pronouncements, but in the simplest things done out of love.”

Catholic Church blasts Venezuela for ‘brutal repression’ of protesters by Reuters: “Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government on Wednesday of ‘totalitarian’ tendencies and ‘brutal repression’ of demonstrators during two months of political unrest that has killed several dozen people.”

The Faces of Food Stamps by Maya Rhodan: “These people could be your neighbors, your co-workers, or the person standing behind you at the supermarket.”

Paul Ryan is Still Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan’s latest makeover is designed to fix his plutocratic image and rehabilitate his future political prospects. It is designed to counter claims that Republicans are indifferent to poverty and revive the image of Paul Ryan as a “serious thinker” who cares about policy, an image that was shattered in the 2012 campaign when many noticed his serial dishonesty and problems with math.

The self-rebranding is not going well, as EJ Dionne explains:

Ryan no longer refers to social programs as a “hammock” for the idle, but he still wants to cut them. And he cited Eloise Anderson, a Wisconsin state official, to tell a story in his CPAC speech — it got more attention than he now wishes — about “a young boy from a very poor family” who “would get a free lunch from a government program.”

The young man “told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”

Ryan didn’t understand that this was a made-up story. After reporting by the Wonkette blog and The Post’s Glenn Kessler, Anderson admitted that she had never spoken to the boy. She picked up the story from a TV interview. Worse, she then twisted a tale first told by supporters of government nutrition assistance that had absolutely nothing to do with school lunch programs.

But what’s most troubling here is that it did not occur to Ryan to check the story because it apparently didn’t occur to him that most kids on free lunch programs have parents who do care about them. They just can’t afford to put a nutritious lunch in a brown paper bag every day.

Paul Ryan has never let facts get in the way of his ideological agenda. Yet just as his attempt to twist the word “subsidiarity”, cherry-pick a couple of quotes from papal encyclicals, and name-drop St. Thomas Aquinas to defend exactly the same approach to government he advocated as a follower of Ayn Rand failed, so too has his “quiet” poverty tour (which kept getting leaked to the press, darn it all!) not produced a new Paul Ryan. At the present moment, all evidence indicates that he’s the same power-hungry, extreme ideologue obsessed with cutting essential government programs, pretending to be a serious, earnest policy wonk.

His new report on poverty has received even more negative attention than the fake story he told at CPAC. Analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates:

The report substantially understates both the nation’s progress in reducing poverty over the past 50 years and the safety net’s impact today…. The report overstates both the marginal tax rates that most low-income families face and their impact…. The report criticizes Medicaid and health reform for discouraging work, but it ignores how health reform significantly reduces work disincentives for working-poor parents…. The report distorts research on the 1996 welfare law…. The report misrepresents data and research on “deep poverty.”… The report omits important research showing that Head Start has long-term positive impacts for children…. The report sometimes uses data to imply that a program isn’t working when the data likely means the program is serving a very disadvantaged population.”

It is no surprise that “several economists and social scientists (cited in the report) had reactions ranging from bemusement to anger at Ryan’s report, claiming that he either misunderstood or misrepresented their research.” Jonathan Chait explains why Ryan is likely distorting so many studies: the “scholarly literature is never going to show that his plans to impose massive cuts to the anti-poverty budget will help poor people.”

Finally, Paul Ryan recently made some comments that many on the left have charged as racist. Given the language that was used about “inner cities,” I understand why many are making this claim. But having followed Ryan’s career very closely for a number of years now, I have not seen any clear signs of racism. What I have seen, over and over again, is a universally myopic view of the poor that seems to persist to this day.

As Christians we can hope that Paul Ryan will experience a real conversion and abandon his strong opposition to large segments of Catholic social teaching. But as voters and citizens, prudence demands skepticism toward public officials who have been so deceptive and strongly opposed to the common good in the past. Concrete evidence is necessary before any trust should be placed in such figures.

Even from this point of view, we can still hold out hope that Paul Ryan’s ambition will force him to embrace some proposals that might actually help the poor. He must know that there will be a big backlash if he offers nothing constructive whatsoever. And if he does put forward constructive ideas (even entirely out of self-interest), they should be examined objectively and seriously considered by all people who are interested in reducing poverty. The status quo is unacceptable and new ideas are necessary to construct a better, more comprehensive approach.

If nothing else, we can hope that his discussion of poverty will lead to a greater amount of focus on the issue by the government and increased discussion of what can be done (in and out government) to reduce poverty.

But overall, Paul Ryan’s fake story, flawed report, and controversial comments confirm the unfortunate truth everyone should recognize: at a fundamental level, Paul Ryan remains Paul Ryan.

Sister Simone Schools Congressman Reid Ribble

According to Paul Ryan and his ilk, an unfettered free market produces the most just distribution of wealth and resources, and private charity’s role is to make outcomes more tolerable for those who don’t fare well under the guidance of the Invisible Hand.  It is based on the blind faith, impervious to all empirical facts, that nearly all those who work hard inevitably achieve economic success and stability.  If we want a more just society, poor people need only work harder.  And if we want everyone to have their needs met, it’s the responsibility of private charities to get the job done.  Thus, a Republican Congressman has called out the Church for coming up short.  At a recent House Budget Committee hearing, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) went so far as to disparage the Catholic Church’s incredible efforts to alleviate poverty, arguing the Church must be doing something wrong for so much need to be going unmet.

Sister Simone Campbell countered these wrong-headed views and explained the Catholic understanding of charity and justice.  For Catholics, voluntary philanthropy is not a substitute for justice.  It is born of necessity and love, filling the holes left over from an unjust society—where a social safety net fails—until such time as those holes can be fixed.  A just society is paramount for Catholics, as each person has dignity and worth and is thus entitled to life’s basic necessities.  A just government, charged with the responsibility of establishing the common good, is one that ensures that each person has access to these necessities.

The resources of the Church cannot cover the costs of an irresponsible government, and systemic economic injustice is at the heart of the problem – a problem which has become so big that “there isn’t sufficient charitable dollars there.”   It’s not even close.  Sister Simone further went on to show that government partnerships with faith-based charities have a long history of successfully helping the most vulnerable in society and that the impoverished would certainly suffer tremendously if this partnership dissolved, to the detriment of society as a whole.  Private charity is wonderful, but it does not eliminate the need to build a more just society.

Around the Web 6/30/13

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Paul Ryan Focusing More on Hurting the Poor by Jonathan Chait

“It’s one thing to tailor policy to encourage people to work. It’s another to create a new punishment for people who can’t find jobs. And given the baseline reality of mass unemployment for low-skilled workers, and a bill that proposes nothing to create more jobs or even job training, the Southerland amendment would do nothing but punish the poor. Ryan voted for it, naturally.”

Testimony of Bishop Stephen Blaire Before the Senate Committee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions

“A just wage confirms the dignity of the worker. And conversely, a wage that does not even allow a worker to support a family or meet basic human needs tears her down and demeans her dignity. The worker becomes just another commodity.”

Susan Rice: Syria inaction a ‘stain’ on security council by BBC News

“The departing US ambassador described her time at the UN as ‘a remarkable period’, but said she regretted more was not done to stem the bloodshed in Syria.  ‘I particularly regret that the Security Council has failed to act decisively as more than 90,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more displaced,’ she said. ‘The council’s inaction on Syria is a moral and strategic disgrace that history will judge harshly.’ On Wednesday the UK-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll was even higher than the UN figure used by Ms Rice, putting it at 100,191.”

A U.S. Catholic interview with Prof. Charles Clark

“One of the nice things about Catholic social thought is that it doesn’t view poverty solely in economic terms. Poverty is exclusion, and people are excluded from more than just the economic life of the community: exclusion can be social, political, cultural, and even spiritual. These are areas where the church, I think, can be most effective.” And the web-exclusive can be read here.

Pope Francis in Weekly General Audience

“Have any of you ever noticed how ugly a tired, bored, indifferent Christian is? It’s an ugly sight. A Christian has to be lively, joyous, he has to live this beautiful thing that is the People of God, the Church. Do we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, so as to be an active part of our communities, or do we close in on ourselves, saying, ‘I have so many things to do, that’s not my job.’?”

Pope at Mass: Resting our faith on the rock of Christ

“There are people who ‘masquerade as Christians,’ and sin by being excessively superficial or overly rigid, forgetting that a true Christian is a person of joy who rests their faith on the rock of Christ. Some think they can be Christian without Christ; others think being Christian means being in a perpetual state mourning. This was the focus of Pope Francis’ homily at morning Mass on Thursday.”

Monks’ message of humility by Ricardo Moraes, Reuters

“Reuters photographer Ricardo Moraes spent time documenting a religious fraternity called O Caminho, (The Way), a group of Franciscan monks and nuns who help the homeless on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. They consider the election of Pope Francis, the first pontiff to take the name of St Francis of Assisi, to be a confirmation of their beliefs in poverty and simplicity.”

Pope Francis: Sunday Angelus

“Jesus never imposes. Jesus is humble. Jesus extends invitations: ‘If you want, come.’ The humility of Jesus is like this: He always invites us. He does not impose.”

Fatherhood, Manhood, and Having It All by Conor P. Williams

“Nonetheless, even the toughest caretaker dad has to find public debates over gender and work-life balance unsatisfying. As a dad walking the fatherhood walk, I find it frustratingly incomplete to hear that men need to make room for women to find better balance between work and life. Please don’t get me wrong: they do. They absolutely do. However, while women ought to have more family flexibility and better professional opportunities from entry-level jobs to the boardroom, that’s only half of the equation.  Improved professional opportunities for women won’t happen in a vacuum. If men are part of the problem, they must also be part of the solution. Professional flexibility for women rests upon a more flexible view of masculinity.”

Fifty Years Later, Are We Still the Church of the Poor?

Fifty years ago today, Pope John XXIII proclaimed that the Church is a “Church of all and in particular the Church of the poor.”  This statement, from a radio address one month before the opening of Vatican II, was further developed in a number of council documents that articulated the nature and mission of the Church as responsible for, and accountable to, the poor and afflicted (see, for example, Ad Gentes nos. 5 and 12).  Recognizing the church’s vocation to restore all persons to “one family” and “one people of God” (AG, no. 1), the council proposed that the four marks of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic are to be understood as dimensions of solidarity with the poor and vulnerable.

Fifty years ago, on the eve on the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John XXIII called the on the faithful to be the “Church of the poor.” Marc Mescher wonders if we are still living up to the call.

These teachings flourished most especially in Latin America, where they gave birth to Liberation Theology and its special attention to the preferential option for the poor.  Despite some misgivings about how this was being applied, both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have highlighted the Christian duty to solidarity with the poor and affirmed that the preferential option for the poor is implicit in Christological faith and the exercise of Christian charity.

For their part, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have stressed the principle of solidarity and the preferential option for the poor in several key pastoral letters, including 1986’s “Economic Justice For All” and 2003’s “Strangers No Longer” (on immigration, co-written with the bishops of Mexico).

But what does this mean for most American lay Catholics, to call the Church “of all and in particular the Church of the poor”?

It’s one thing to take this as an institutional description.  It’s quite another to consider what this might demand from each of its members.

What is solidarity, anyway?  If you ask any five Catholics what “solidarity” means, you’ll probably get at least six answers.  And if you ask them what it actually demands of their daily lives, you’ll likely get either blank stares or vague ideas.

It’s one thing to claim solidarity as a theological principle. It’s another to transfer it to the moral plane, and it’s yet another to actually put this into practice.

Gustavo Gutiérrez, who is sometimes referred to as the “Grandfather of Liberation Theology,” contends that at its core, the call to solidarity and to give preference to the poor is a call to establishing friendships with people who are poor.  Because, as he explains, when you are friends with someone, their problems become your problems and when you are friends with the poor, you really care about solving the issues of exclusion, deprivation, and dehumanization they face.

But friendship isn’t enough.  Friendships with the poor won’t change the systems and structures, the policies and practices that keep poor people poor (and help the rich stay rich).

When the U.S. Census report comes out later this Fall, it is expected to show the highest poverty rate since 1965.  Nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty.  Tavis Smiley and Cornel West point to information that suggests that as many as 100 million Americans are on the cusp of falling into poverty, which could push that ratio closer to one in three.

Democrats don’t want Americans to learn that income inequality is worse under President Obama than it was under President Bush.  They don’t want Americans to hear that President Obama’s promise to keep banks from getting too big to fail has failed, despite five of the biggest banks (Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs) claiming $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56% of the U.S. economy, an increase from the 43% they held five years ago. They don’t want Americans to notice that President Obama has failed to deliver on his campaign promise to raise the minimum wage by 2011.  And they don’t want to bring attention to the fact that President Obama has no intention of following through on his second stimulus, the jobs plan he proposed a year ago.

And of course Republicans don’t want Christians to read the Ryan Budget too closely, as it plans to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and weakest members of society, with two-thirds of Ryan’s proposed cuts targeting programs for the poor.  It is laudable that in his speech at the RNC, Congressman Paul Ryan said, “We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.”  But Republicans cannot just apply this duty to the unborn or the elderly or undercut this sentiment by denying the government’s role in carrying out these responsibilities.  Congressman Ryan defended his budget by acknowledging that while the “preferential option for the poor” is “one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching,” he does not interpret this to mean increased government action (or even maintaining current programs that help those in need).  As opposed to the USCCB, Ryan believes such programs are counterproductive, saying, “Don’t keep people poor; don’t make people dependent on government so they stay stuck in their station in life.”  But he hasn’t explained how cutting funding for food stamps, welfare agencies, and social services will empower the poor by increasing social mobility and helping them to gain access to the food, shelter, education, and health care they need.

Perhaps neither party really cares.  There was very little mention of “the poor” at either the Republican National Convention or the Democratic National Convention in the last two weeks.  Instead, both parties are focusing on the middle class. This may be due to the fact that most Americans identify as “middle class” even though its share of America’s income is shrinking.  It may be because neither party wants us to think about how hard life has been for the most vulnerable members of American society since the Great Recession hit.

It is sadly ironic that the parties are appealing to the interests of “the great middle” in a time when this country’s politics are growing increasingly polarized, partisan, and acrimonious – especially when their failures in Washington have resulted in fewer Americans belonging in this category.

For all these reasons, the Church’s commitment to solidarity with the poor is absolutely crucial.  This is not to say the Church should impose its vision of society on the state, but it should at least give voice to the voiceless and to remind its members that solidarity is not a pious platitude, but a moral obligation.  Contrary to Stephen Colbert’s satirical claim that the gospels quote Jesus saying, “I’ve got mine, Jack,”  Jesus did say that the Final Judgment would be based on what we did for the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, and others in need (Mt. 25:31-46).  One cannot draw straight lines from biblical passages to ballot boxes, but teachings such as these should give us pause to consider to whom we are accountable when we vote.

For most Americans, voting is a once-in-four-years-activity.  Solidarity requires so much more than a trip to the voting booth.  It invites us into friendships with people who are marginalized and in need, as Gutiérrez believes.  But it also makes claims on how we spend our money and time each and every day.  It offers a divine perspective on who we are as a people, as both disciples and citizens.

It’s a perspective that needs more of our attention today.