It is now official. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate is to be Rep. Paul Ryan. And the arguing over how Catholics should vote — Democrat or Republican — has begun.
The big picture is this. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has heavily criticized Rep. Ryan’s proposed budget as hurting the poor. Moreover the bishops had already heavily criticized President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services’s contraception and abortion insurance coverage “mandate” as an assault on religious liberty.
How helpful, since Catholics have no viable third choice. Of course the bishops cannot outright endorse a presidential candidate. That is a violation of the Roman Catholic Church’s IRS tax-exempt status, and rightly so.
So let’s here try to be “cold light of day” about the “choice” in 2012.
Although more influential than most based on his House Budget Committee chairmanship (which rotates, so it cannot be a permanent presence), Rep. Paul Ryan is still only a single House member alongside 534 other representatives and senators. It is reported in various media (so a grain of salt alert is probably in order) that Rep. Ryan was/ is a “devotee” of a late “free market,” “pro-choice,” atheist philosopher/ writer named Ayn Rand. Whatever the full backstory to that, while he might have imbibed some of her economic views that hardly means he is Rand reincarnated given he also asserts he is a practicing Roman Catholic.
Certainly one may also admire Thomas Jefferson’s views on religious liberty and his stirring words in the Declaration of Independence and by doing so not be calling also for a return to slavery, a master again being able to take sexual “liberties” with enslaved women, and (given he did not support women’s suffrage) a repealing of the 19th Amendment. So regardless how “harsh” Ryan’s spending ideas may be, even if he were to ascend to the presidency suddenly, no “Ryan budget” would pass into law wholesale. A president does not get to “mandate” a budget all by himself, of course.
Speaking of “mandates.” This writer adamantly opposes the Obama administration’s “contraception mandate” on principle as a “free exercise” state encroachment of a sort unseen since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. That it is over “birth control” is immaterial. It would be the same assault on “free exercise” if it were “mandated” Catholic tax-exempt entities had to divert funds to help pay for nuclear weapons, windmills or any other state policy properly funded by taxation.
The Obama administration has responded to Roman Catholics’ criticism and entreaties by offering misrepresentations about an “accommodation” for religious charities and also loudly proclaiming that the “mandate” itself will stand: it is a non-negotiable. The “mandate” became law officially on August 1, 2012 without any actual “accommodation” in law; but the church affiliates still generally have one year to implement it, so it appears no law has been broken yet; and the affiliates’ lawsuits to have it overturned are proceeding. The bishops have stated the “mandate” will not be complied with under any circumstances and if they have no other way out they will shutter Catholic health services nationwide.
One may adopt a complacent view and think that will not happen. But our ancestors who migrated to the Americas and later to the U.S., built not only churches, but Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals. We owe them something; as we owe those who will follow us; we are but caretakers.
So let’s take care.
It boils down to this. We may have a problem down the line over a general federal budget that could be based on the views of a vice presidential nominee. But let us remember Mitt Romney will be president. Vice presidents have little power over a budget.
On the other side of the ledger, we have an actual huge problem right now with a president seeking re-election who has “mandated” an attack on the Roman Catholic church’s charitable affiliates. And he has dug in his heels. Yet if that “mandate” stands as is that must mean the end of independent Catholic health services in the United States.
Former Bill Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich predictably attacked Rep. Ryan for wanting to take the U.S. back to before the New Deal. Let us think on that charge. It certainly seems exaggerated well beyond the demonstrable. After all, there have been “insensitive” Republican administrations at various times since 1952, yet somehow the legacy of the New Deal endures?
In his partisan assault note Reich does touch on this:
…Oh, did I say that Romney and Ryan also want to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law, thereby leaving fifty million Americans without health insurance?…
Notice though what Mr Reich does NOT address: that if the Obama administration is re-elected and does not change course on its “mandate”, by 2016 there may not be a single Catholic hospital anywhere in the U.S. providing services to anyone, including the poor.
If Mr Reich would like seriously to debate fidelity to the New Deal, we must observe for starters that it is impossible to imagine one Franklin Delano Roosevelt ever having dared threaten the existence of Roman Catholic charitable institutions as the Obama administration is actually and unapologetically doing.
It goes without saying here also that Catholics should morally prefer a pro-life and anti-death penalty ticket combined; but that choice does not exist. Obama/Biden are not pro-life; and Romney/Ryan are not anti-death penalty. However that quandary is nothing new, as the two main political parties have long-hardened into those opposing camps.
Where does all that leave individual Roman Catholics who wish to vote their consciences? Mr Reich had tweeted more knowingly than he realized when he wrote how “The Ryan choice …poses a true choice for America.” No one is going to tell us what to do: we must decide.
It would seem that logically Roman Catholics should give top priority in voting to responding to actions that directly assail the faith our forebears brought to America, rather than focusing on partisan political squabblings over proposed fiscal policies that cannot be implemented unchallenged anyway.