Robert Reno on Paul Ryan and the Angry Catholic Left:
Today we face an even larger problem created by the social programs once endorsed by the Catholic Church: insolvency. When Paul Ryan spoke at Georgetown last week, it’s this problem that he put front and center: “The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt.” He did not back off from his claim that his budget reflects Catholic social doctrine. “The Holy Father, Pope Benedict,” he reminded his audience, many of whom had signed the letter of reprimand, “has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are 'living at the expense of future generations' and 'living in untruth.” During the last century the leaders of the Catholic Church—and many other men and women of good will—made countless prudential judgments about how basic Christian truths should be applied to the crises then facing modern industrial societies. Some were wise and led to good policies: minimum wage laws, for example, and unemployment insurance. Others such as wage and price controls weren’t so wise.
That the results were mixed is not surprising. Policies and budgets don’t follow like conclusion from syllogisms, as the simplistic logic of the letter of reprimand implies. Instead, we need to apply ourselves to solve the problems we face as best we can.
Today we need government programs to support the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the vulnerable. And we need programs to help young people get educated, to rebuild our infrastructure, and defend our country. In short, we need to do all the things that a good, responsible government should do in a healthy society concerned about the common good.
We can argue about how to do all this and what takes priority. However, by Paul Ryan’s reckoning—and I certainly agree with him—we face a fiscal crisis. We can’t keep doing all the things we’ve been doing the way we’ve been doing them. And so his budget proposes changes.
Are the changes necessary? Are the workable? Are they wise? These are all questions liberals can insist upon asking. But enough with the high-handed presumption that no conservative can be concerned about the poor. Paul Ryan wants us to take political responsibility for the fiscal crisis we’re facing, and responsibility is the first virtue necessary for anyone seeking to govern in accord with Catholic social doctrine.
One of the perversions of the concept of the Catholic doctrine of “social justice” that has developed over the years has been to assume that it always involves supporting government solutions (and the accompanying higher taxes to fund them) to the problems facing the least and the lost. Instead of engaging in debate about which means may best achieve the goal of helping those in need, the religious left has instead sought to smear conservatives by claiming that we don’t support the same ends as they do.
Paul Ryan is forthrightly addressing the fallacy behind this smear and forcing the issue behind simplistic name calling by presenting the facts of the dilemma that we now face. We all want to take care of the poor, sick, and elderly of society and ensure that their basic needs are met. But we have limited resources available to do that and we can no longer afford to fund the “solutions” that we have tried in the past which more often than not have involved throwing more government and more money at the problem. Given these uncomfortable realities, which path should we take going forward? You can disagree with Ryan (and other conservatives) about whether the direction he espouses is the right one, but please stop pretending that he doesn’t share the same concerns for the poor that those harrumphing about “social justice” claim to.