Paul Ryan, like all of us, gets a number of things right and a number of things wrong.
Let’s start with “good” Paul Ryan. Isn’t it great to have a conservative Catholic politician (or, quite frankly, a Catholic politician of any kind) who is unwilling to check his faith at the doors of the capital building? Here is an exchange where he makes this explicit:
David Brody: Tell me a little bit about the morality and the debt. Where does your Catholic faith play into the way this budget is crafted?
Paul Ryan: 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?
How refreshing! And, even better, Ryan doesn’t limit his engagement with Catholic teaching to abortion and life issues, but admirably tries to connect it to issues of economic justice as well–even though it doesn’t appear to be a natural fit for his political philosophy.
Many on this blog have pointed out some important shortcomings in Ryan’s struggle to reconcile his (1) focus on individualism and (2) incredibly strong aversion to government with his commitment to Catholic Social Doctrine. Alarmingly, some of Ryan’s defenders have (very publicly) perpetuated his mistakes and caused a significant amount of confusion about what the Church actually teaches about these matters. That is why a few of us crafted and circulated the statement “On All of Our Shoulders”; in the midst of this confusion we wanted to see the fullness of the tradition’s wisdom clearly cited and defended.
And in part because it is already absolutely clear that Joe Biden and most other pro-choice Catholic politicians are at odds with Catholic Social Doctrine (incidentally, if Ryan can engage with the language and principles of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church then shouldn’t we expect Biden to engage with Evangelium Vitae?), we focused on Ryan in an attempt to bring similar clarity to a set of issues currently obscured by confusion. Simply and directly put, and contrary to the opinion of some critics, we had no partisan motives. Only in a political world dominated by a false and lazy liberal/conservative binary could it ever be said that criticism of one party is de facto support of another.
But let’s get back to “good” Paul Ryan. While he takes some well-deserved criticism from faithful Catholics for his proposed solutions, his diagnosis of our problems is right on the money. Indeed, in today’s guest Op-Ed for the Washington Post‘s “She the People” (a great blog to follow, by the way), I wrote the following:
Ryan has become a tour de force in raising awareness about the radical unsustainability of our country’s health care system. It is already putting a massive strain on our economy—and with increasing health care costs, coupled with far fewer workers paying taxes relative to those in retirement, things are looking to get much worse before they get better. Here in the United States, Medicare trustees say that if something isn’t done the system will go broke sometime around 2024. Ryan quite rightly insists that it is a moral imperative to do something to save the system to make it sustainable for future generations so those who need these safety nets will have them. The alternative, he says, are the strict austerity measures of Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries—and this will hurt the poor far more than reforming the system in the ways he has proposed….Ryan should be genuinely admired, especially by liberals who care about vulnerable populations, for having the courage to squarely face our looming health care debt crisis which threatens to devastate future vulnerable populations.
If only Democrats would name and face this problem as squarely as Ryan does, we might be able to actually be able to begin to think coherently as a culture about what tough choices need to be made if we are truly going to be in solidarity with future generations. Instead, most Democrats demagogue every serious attempt to do so as “taking health care away from seniors and the poor.” Paul Ryan doesn’t have the right answers (at least if we take Catholic teaching on universal health care and other issues seriously), but at least he is asking many of the right questions.
Tonight’s debate, in my view anyway, is must-see TV–especially for Catholics who are interested in politics. We will see lots of “bad” Paul Ryan, no doubt, but there will also be “good” Paul Ryan. If we overlook the latter in an attempt to highlight the former, then we will miss a badly-needed opportunity to address several difficult problems which must be confronted before it is too late.
Charlie– I applaud your desire for a nuanced take on Ryan, and in particular his refusal of a “privatization” of religious belief – endemic among Democrats – which is a problem that cuts across many issues. I can’t recall any national Catholic Democrat taking seriously the argument for the connections of abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia.
That said, your post indicates that Ryan is sounding a novel and courageous call to concern about medical costs, a problem that Democrats are not willing to “name and face.” In fact, not only do Democrats name and face this – and let’s note, they’ve been doing so since the 1990’s – but they have actually passed legislation that offers practical steps toward this end: the Affordable Care Act. I’ll leave the details to those who would check out this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/13/the-white-houses-medicare-plan-isnt-that-hard-to-find/
We can certainly have a “prudential judgment” discussion about whether this plans will work or whether Ryan’s plan will work… and even what “work” means. But of course it has been a principal scare tactic used against health care reform to warn about “unelected bureaucrats” making health decisions. The fact that certainly Republicans are not willing to admit – ever – is that our health care system as a whole is twice as expensive as other developed countries, with worse outcomes, precisely because we do not have a centrally-managed system of some sort (and there are many sorts – it is not all British-style socialized medicine). And, to be clear, I think your own WaPo piece points in this direction, in terms of some kind of rationing at some level, but that’s not reflected in your post here.
So I fully understand the need to avoid a “evil Ryan” view. But it is pretty uncharitable to Democrats to suggest that they don’t “name and face squarely” this problem of health care costs. They do – and in fact Democrats rightly see Medicare as an issue intertwined with the entire system. Again, there’s room for discussion about prudential judgments involved in a market-based health care system as a whole. I personally find a system that differentiates among different kinds of medical care (just as we do not have auto insurance for all auto repairs) a somewhat helpful way into this discussion. See: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/09/how-american-health-care-killed-my-father/307617/
But the idea that Ryan is commendable for attention to this in some way that Democrats are not seems unfair to a very long Democratic tradition of trying to achieve this goal.
Charlie, you write, “If Ryan can engage with the language and principles of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church then shouldn’t we expect Biden to engage with Evangelium Vitae?”
Actually I would be happy if Joe Biden engaged the Compendium! I think Catholics have been affiliated with the Democrats for so long that there is just a lazy assumption that Democratic policies are consistent with CST. But throwing out “the common good” isn’t good enough, it would be helpful if Catholic politicians on both sides were actively engaged with the texts and the teachings.
Another way to put it is that Ryan is being hammered for the influence of Ayn Rand on his thinking. But who are Joe Biden’s intellectual influences?
David, as many Democrats said in the run-up to the passage of the ACA, it does not fundamentally change the structural problems in our health care system. Even taking the ACA into account, the CBO projects that Medicare is broke before 2030. The problems are structural and they are fundamental and they are not changed by any legislation that Democrats have passed or seriously proposed.
I agree with your criticism of (most) Republicans with regard to their unwillingness to consider rationing via a centralized system (remember, again, that criticism of one party is not support for another)…but mainstream Democrats have never been willing and/or able to make the big push necessary for the kind of NHS-like, explicitly-rationed health care system you describe. That would be an example of the fundamental, structural change necessary to deal with our problem. Instead, they propose and enact band-aid approaches, which are actually meant to solve other problems (like coverage of people today), and then demagogue proposed solutions like Ryan’s that are actually willing to make the kind of structural changes necessary to deal with the problem. Yes, Republicans also demagogue the very few proposals of a very few Democrats which address the structural problems as well…but, again, that’s not the point of this post.
The point is that Paul Ryan is to be admired for his energy and passion and furious effort to bring into the mainstream of his party (and our country) a sense of the urgency with regard the huge problem of our health care debt, and a willingness to act to actually solve it. So far, the Democrats have been unable or unwilling to do that.
Charlie– when you say that the Democratic proposals privilege simply extending coverage over dealing with cost challenges, that seems right to me. I have read that some of the major debate within the party during the ACA debate was whether cost control or expanding coverage was going to be the primary focus, and the latter won… for predictable reasons, which could very well lead to the conclusions that you state. However, it does seem to me that, as the Klein article and the Republican criticisms of a “best practices” panel indicate, there is an effort to approach the structural change via a “nudge” philosophy. So it’s a real proposal – even if it is possible to suggest that it is a pretty weak one, given the seriousness of the problem. There ARE Democrats, of course, who have long put serious energy into structural reform proposals – the question to ask is why the Dem mainstram cannot consider those proposals any more!
I’m sorry if I misunderstand the points of this discussion. But, are you suggesting that Bishop Morlino is incorrect in coming to the defense of Ryan on the issues of prudential judgement? I would think on a moral ground regardless of what Ryan’s position on the budget or healthcare is, his position against abortion is the definitive factor. Simply put, as far as I can see the Church teaches that we can not vote for a candidate who publically supports an intrinsic evil like abortion, even he/she may claim to be against it privately. Is Rev. Torraco incorrect in his assessment published at EWTN in 2010? http://www.ewtn.com/vote/brief_catechism.htm, refer to paragraph 3.