Friday, August 17, 2012

The Gray Lady learns how to genuflect

(MercatorNet) No one would have expected the New York Times to react favorably to Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan, most well-known for advancing a budget proposal, as his Vice Presidential running mate. On that score, the Times and the rest of his detractors are predictably portraying him as an extremist.

They cast Ryan’s budget proposal as “politically toxic”; it is nothing but a series of senseless cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Even if those sympathetic to Ryan’s ideas feel it could use some tinkering, for the Times it couldn’t possibly represent an honest attempt to diminish the serious peril the country now faces.

The reality is that President Obama is driving the country off a fiscal cliff, callously abusing future generations by saddling them with colossal debt. And for all the “stimulus” spending he oversaw, the economy still languishes in tatters. This is far from an abstract, impersonal reality.

Obama’s own budget proposal failed to gain one measly vote in either the House or the Senate. Not a single vote? This suggests something else besides hapless incompetence is at work here: cold calculation. He must see some advantage in not submitting a realistic budget. For one, it allows him to paint opponents prepared to take our problems seriously as soulless one-percenters, as when he grossly accused Ryan of “pitting children with autism or Down syndrome against millionaires and billionaires.”

The Times dutifully alleges, on cue, that it is Ryan – and not Obama -- who is irresponsible and cold-hearted. Ryan is even going to take away your new local sewage plant! Amidst all his heartless proposals, Ryan “has failed to explain how he would make them [the poor] self-sufficient”. Read that again and marvel not only at the internal contradiction (how can Ryan or any government official make anyone become self–sufficient?) but at the self-congratulatory condescension.

So the Times’ litany of mischaracterizations is crass and dishonest. But who cares? They are counting on people to accept that his plan is morally indefensible as an article of faith.

What really takes the cake, however, is that the Times chose, in two successive editorials, to call upon the nation’s Catholic Bishops to bolster their case. They write, for instance, that Ryan’s proposed “cuts are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops protested the proposal as failing to meet society’s moral obligations.”

The New York Times, claiming the Church as an authority – a trusted arbiter of what constitutes the common good, justice and compassion? Sure looks that way. I thought the Times typically regarded the Bishops as custodians of an irrational dogmatism – as stodgy ol’ atavists waging a “war on women” and otherwise raining on the freedom as license parade.

Surely they have irreparably damaged their own well-cultivated secularist “street cred” by acknowledging the Bishops in this way. What’s next? Any day now they may begin to amplify the simple (and representative) statement recently made by Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori. In urging people to resist a kind of reflexive or ingrained allegiance to any particular party affiliation, he cut to the chase:

“The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.” 

The bishops tend to resort, for good reason, to general statements of principal such as these rather than referring explicitly to the individuals involved. Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, here in northern California, expressed that same concept earlier this year:

“Any government leader, particularly those who claim to be Christian, who claim to be pro-choice, is unworthy of public office. Absolutely unworthy and absolutely unfit for public office.” 

These statements hardly need any translation. In fact, Obama is so far off the charts in his promotion of intrinsic evil – is there today a more visible face of the culture of death? – he deserves the rebuke of humane citizens rather than their votes.

It does not necessarily follow that a man who supports infanticide and lies about it would automatically promote other evil or seriously problematic things, or lie about other matters dear to his statist heart such as the contents of Obamacare or the thrust of the Ryan budget. But it can’t be surprising that he would do so.

Perhaps the New York Times will soon be alerting its readers to the types of concerns the Church would have on, say, the fictional character Julia whose every need (or preference) throughout her life span is delivered by Obama’s benevolent if bloated state. "Wherever politics tries to be redemptive”, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in Truth and Tolerance before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, “it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God,” Ratzinger continued, “it becomes, not divine, but demonic.”

The readership of the New York Times will not be alarmed by its sudden deference to the teachings of the Church. As with Obama’s own former statements opposing gay marriage, they will overlook it as a convenient façade.

It must also be said that the Times did not exactly misrepresent the criticism of Ryan in one document released, probably unfortunately, by the US Bishops’ “Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development”. In the ensuing controversy, Ryan’s own bishop came to his defense. That in itself, though, is another matter.

In brief, it seems everyone recognizes the imperative to serve those in poverty. Let us leave aside for the moment that, even amidst our devastating economic downturn, spiritual poverty seems to be the most pervasive form of poverty assailing us today – the inference being that that spiritual works of mercy need much more attention even as we strive to perform the corporal works of mercy.

Judging the merits of particular budget proposals, provided none of them violate any essential moral principals, is by the Bishop’s own pronouncements a matter beyond their particular competence. The same could be said if Ryan were to attempt to speak authoritatively on bedrock matters of faith and morals, which rightly belong to the Bishops.

The Bishops have been pleading for lay persons to lead – with their reason, innate talents, and accumulated wisdom from within their fields – precisely within these critical domains of political, professional and cultural life, while remaining faithful to the non-negotiables of the faith. It’s hard to see how one could exercise such leadership without due consideration of the failure of our own decades-long, government-led “war on poverty” and the various ills of the socialist/welfare state here and abroad, to say nothing of how these phenomenon relate to the disintegration of the family and the de-Christianization of the West.

In any event, reasonable proposals genuinely seeking the common good and protection of the vulnerable should be engaged with charity. This means truth must be invited to the party too. No prizes if you surmise that the New York Times is interested in neither.

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