Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lines in the Sand

Daniel Henninger on how the left's efforts to destroy Paul Ryan only seem to make him more willing to take the argument to them. Demolishing Paul Ryan:

What Mr. Ryan actually said is worth quoting, because it should revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government:

"A person's faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

"To me, the principle of subsidiarity . . . meaning government closest to the people governs best . . . 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 tenets 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 a life of independence."

Subsidiarity—an awful but important word—attempts to discover where the limits lie in the demands a state can make on its people. Identifying that limit was at the center of the Supreme Court's mandate arguments.

The first major use of subsidiarity as a basis for public policy was in Pope Leo XIII's famous 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (though the word itself doesn't appear). Leo was seeking a way to protect the dignity of human beings caught during those years in the tension between unfettered capitalism and unfettered government. "The State," he wrote, "must not absorb the individual or the family." Arguments over where the balance sits have raged since.

The American left thinks this debate is settled. So, for example, any hint of Supreme Court dissent from settled doctrine justifies questions about its "legitimacy."

Paul Ryan insists the debate isn't over and that its locus is the federal budget, which isn't just numbers. The budget is the national government's formal justification for the scale of the demands it makes now and unto eternity on the nation's citizens.

This is the debate Barack Obama hopes mockery and rhetorical carpet-bombing can kill before the fall campaign. It's only a guess, but I'm betting his opponent is looking forward to forcing the president to come up with a better argument for establishing a government in the U.S. that is subordinate to no one.

This is exactly the debate that we should be having right now and one that I believe many Americans hunger for. It would be helpful if Democrats, especially President Obama, would honestly and openly engage and argue the substance of the matters instead of talking about the latest "war on ___" that Republicans have launched. I'm not holding out much hope for that, but I am confident that regardless of how they respond, Paul Ryan is going to continue to push forward and present the American people with clear choices about what path forward we wish to take. I'm actually beginning to think that Mitt Romney might (a big might) start consistently doing the same thing.