Congressman Paul Ryan spoke at Georgetown, University in response to the letter of some 90 faculty members there that the national budget proposed for 2013 by Republicans, including President-elect Mitt Romney, was not consistent with Catholic teaching. Hunter S. Thompson once came briefly out of his drug-induced journalistic state at Milwaukee’s Riverside theater years ago to say that his great piece of advice in this life was “look out for the Jesuits.”
Ryan discovered that his discipleship in Ayn Rand and the books by Ayn Rand he had been giving out to be read by interns and staff since 2005 and the woman credited with being the chief influence in getting him into public service was an avowed atheist. “I’m Shocked, I’m Shocked” the good Congressman could be heard to say this past week. Ryan trades heavily on his Catholic faith and he had it also pointed out to him that any budget that reserves most of the resources for those least in need of them was somehow out of accord with Catholic teaching. Ryan’s response was to go into a long discourse on “subsidiaryism,” a philosophy that involves freeing people from the dependency of government and providing the poor with all sorts of bountiful freedom to do well, whatever it is the poor do without government help when destitute and hungry.
The Republican approach to economic prosperity and creating the millions of new jobs that are needed in the coming years is to further enrich those who have the lion’s share of the money already. Just why the wealthy, who have had the greatest of advantages from 2001 to 2012 with the Bush Tax Cuts could not create more jobs is a mystery. But we are led to believe that if we only gave them still more money the jobs and prosperity will, to quote the psalmist, “flow down like a mighty trickle.” During the eight years of the Clinton presidency taxes were raised and the budget balanced with a surplus and job creation was considerably enhanced as was economic growth. In the prosperous 1950’s when eighty percent tax rates on the wealthiest Americans were not uncommon we were the envy of the world.
Ryan’s budget involves considerable cuts in government spending, not to balance the budget, but to provide three trillion dollars more to the top one or two percent of us. The greatest profits in recorded American history in 2010 and over two trillion in cash just sitting there like liver on a pillow of fat were not sufficient to aid corporations in creating jobs.
In exchange for this, 62 percent of the cuts in government spending will come from the poor and already ravaged middle class. Social Security and Medicare, two programs that working Americans pay into all their lives, will get big slashing cuts so that benefits will be less and out of pocket expenses will continually rise, along with the cost of healthcare in a post Obamacare environment. Food stamps, hot lunches at school for poor kids, and even pell grants and aid to technical colleges and training programs will get the axe. Research and development dollars designed to keep the United States ahead of the competition will be cut too. Yet, the Pentagon will strangely receive even more funding than they themselves asked for. As Romney has pledged to “attack Iran immediately” if he is President I guess the greater funding makes a great deal of sense.
This past weekend the Christian lectionary selections from the Holy Scriptures included the following bit of wisdom from the Apostle John in helping people like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney to see what it is they ought to be doing as people of great faith.
John writes, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 John 3: 17)Or Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching and commands that “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” And then he says to his disciples then and now, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25 36-7 and 40-41)
Are we to be led to believe by Ryan and Romney and Boehner and McConnell that the world’s great corporations and the wealthiest among us are “the least of these?” Can we expect a declining Christian church in a growing secular state to do all the work of providing for them? Isn’t it vital that those called to leadership in our government’s greatest counsels use that influence to follow the dictates of their faith? To be advocates for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the widow and the orphan? Isn’t that true leadership?
It is true, that in terms of spiritual gifts that include placing our true treasures in heaven with a firm reliance in the promises of God the likes of Ryan and Romney are very poor—even destitute indeed. In terms of the Gift of the Spirit and of God’s love abiding in them those that favor these Republican schemes are to be pitied.
But as George Bailey responds to the Angel Clarence in the Frank Capra classic film It’s A Wonderful Life, finding that Clarence has no money George says “well it certainly comes in handy down here bub.” That’s where we presently are. We people of faith and even those atheists who yet have feelings of compassionate humanity for others know that we are called by that greater humanity to lives of service to others and especially “the least of these.”
Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
for Struggles for Justice