Marc Thiessen once again reveals the limits of a partisan mindset:
President Obama attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget as “nothing but thinly veiled Social Darwinism.” That is not surprising. What is surprising is that the chairman of a major committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a similar scathing attack against Ryan, a faithful Catholic who says his budget work is informed and guided by the social teaching of the Church.
It isn’t really surprising that Ryan’s earlier references to Catholic social teaching prompted this. If the reader didn’t already know that Ryan’s comments on subsidiarity had created a backlash among progressive Catholics, he might conclude that the bishops’ letters had come out of nowhere. The article Thiessen links includes this passage:
The hierarchy’s pushback comes after liberal Catholics in Congress and progressive activists challenged the bishops to resist the GOP budget proposals with the same vigor that they have challenged the Obama administration’s contraception mandate and its perceived violations of religious freedom.
Evidently, rebukes from Catholic bishops are acceptable to Thiessen only when they are directed at members of the other party.
Reading through the letters, I didn’t find a “similar scathing attack against Ryan.” The letters challenged some parts of Ryan’s budget proposal, and in one instance sharply criticized the budget resolution passed by the House, but they did not mention Ryan by name, nor did they use demagogic language to characterize Ryan’s views. In fact, the letter on the federal budget specifically cites several administration proposals that the bishops oppose at the same time that it rebukes some of Ryan’s priorities. So Thiessen has already misrepresented these letters in a significant way. The one letter to the Agriculture Committee that said that the budget resolution “fails to meet these moral criteria” was specifically addressing funding for federal food programs:
If savings need to be achieved, cuts to agricultural subsidies and direct payments should be considered before cutting antihunger programs that help feed poor and vulnerable people.
Thiessen was so exercised over the “unjust attack” on Ryan that he forgot to make the moral case for providing agribusinesses with federal subsidies.
It’s not as if Ryan can (somewhat clumsily) invoke Catholic social teaching to defend his proposal and not expect some official response. One of the main complaints against Ryan’s recent use of Catholic social teaching is that he appears to neglect solidarity as an equally important principle. According to the Catholic Catechism, part of the definition of solidarity is this:
Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.
This would seem to imply some sort of shared sacrifice, which is the phrase that so offends Thiessen. If I had to guess, it was the reference to “unnecessary military spending” that bothered him the most, since Thiessen doesn’t consider abnormally high current levels of military spending to be unnecessary. In fact, the authors of the letters did not say anything specific about Ryan’s proposals for tax reform and military spending, and in the letter on the federal budget they write, “We do not offer a detailed critique of entire budget proposals, but we ask you to consider the human and moral dimensions of these choices.” This is what Thiessen describes as an “unjust attack.”