Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Poor You Will Always Have With You, So Let Them Suck It Up Until I Come

A Dominican nun, Erica Jordan, asked Paul Ryan at a CNN Town Hall meeting how he reconciles his economic policies with his Catholic faith.  His predictable answer was that social welfare programs have failed the poor, but his "small-government" budget-cutting programs will succeed, so "For me — for the poor that’s key to the Catholic faith. That means mobility, economic growth, equality of opportunity."  According to ThinkProgress, he told the audience:
We have to fix that, by making sure we can customize these before the to help a person get to where she is to where she wants and needs to be…The model I’m talking about is the Catholic Charities model.  Cristo Rey parish has cafeterias that do an amazing job, in spite of government, doing wrap around visits for the poor to making sure they get to where they need to be. If government will help do that I think we can go a long way in fighting poverty.
ThinkProgress said this was an "awkward" response, though they went on to point out that it was also dishonest:
Moreover, Catholic Charities doesn’t do its work “in spite of” government. It relies on it: Catholic Charities USA gets nearly half of its operating budget from the federal funds, as do scores of other faith-based charities. When Ryan championed president Donald Trump’s budget proposal—which slashed welfare programs—earlier this year, an anti-hunger faith group released a study estimating that every religious congregation in America would need to raise $714,000 a year for 10 years to shoulder the burden of caring for the poor.
Ronald Reagan could be similarly "awkward":
One day in the 1980 campaign, Reagan visited the Santa Marta Hospital in a Chicano area of Los Angeles.  He told the institution's staff that he had asked a nun there whether the hospital got "compensation from Medicaid or anything like that."  According to the candidate, she answered "no."  "I appreciate your pride in that," he told the group.

A "puzzled senior administrator" later informed supporters that 95% of the patients at Santa Marta Hospital were subsidized by either Medicaid or Medicare.  (Time, 10/20/80)*
I have mixed feelings about this.  There's an American tradition of demanding that Roman Catholic politicians remain independent of the Great Satan in Rome, instead of letting its dogmas guide their decisions.  If a Catholic religious were to confront a straying Catholic (or even non-Catholic) politician for failing to conform to Catholic doctrine on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, or gender, I would certainly not cheer them on.  That I might agree with Sister Erica's opinions in this case doesn't mean that I think the Church has any authority in matters of morality or public policy.

What amused me were some of the reactions to the story on Twitter.  Quite a few said they wanted to commit violence (that one has a Ph.D.!) against Ryan.  That's how you know they're real Christians.  They're not the reason I'm an atheist, but they certainly do reaffirm and enhance my faith.  I've been to known to indulge in such rhetoric myself at times, but I'm not a Christian and I don't claim to be guided by a Higher Love.

I myself was reminded of Barack Obama's answer, at one of his town halls in 2010, to an African-American supporter who told him she was "exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."  Predictably, she was attacked for undermining her President, for being a spoiled privileged brat, for letting herself be used by the Lying Media "to create a meme and narrative pertaining to African American dissatisfaction with President Obama."

Speaking of Obama, there were several references to Ryan's "smirk" in those angry tweets.  I can relate to their anger about that issue too.  Obama also has an infuriating smirk when he's condescending to the victims of American power (some of whom are American nuns, killed with US government collusion), dismissing their concerns as mere "suspicions."

I doubt, however, that Obama would agree with either Sister Erica Jordan or the angry folks who attacked Ryan in social media.  After all, Obama appointed Ryan, along with a bipartisan array of deficit hawks, to a commission on reducing the national deficit, aka the Catfood Commission.  It was actually somewhat surprising that this handpicked group was unable to agree on recommendations; maybe, as with some Republicans' refusal to vote for Trump's repeal of the Affordable Care Act,  they thought the plans weren't cruel enough.  But not to worry: the chairmen of the commission submitted their personal wish list as a memo to the President, which he and the media accepted as if it were an official report of the commission itself.  In the 2012 debates, Obama declared that he and the Romney-Ryan ticket had a "somewhat similar position" on Social Security.  As late as 2016, the Washington Post was touting the substantial agreement between Obama and Ryan ("For two men of goodwill, this is a bridgeable divide") on addressing poverty.  All this had gone down the memory hole long before Donald Trump became President.

If Jordan had asked Barack Obama the same question she asked Ryan, would his answer have been very different?  I doubt it.  Most likely she'd be attacked for undermining POTUS by the same people who cheer for her now.

* Mark Green and Gail MacColl, Reagan's Reign of Error: The Instant Nostalgia Edition (Pantheon, 1987), p. 86.