Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan, Midwesterner, Catholic, Intellectual: The GOP's (Catholic) Long Game

Steve Kornacki thinks that the choice of Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate reveals the hand of the "long game" the GOP has been playing for some time now: "dramatic changes in social safety net programs, in the tax code, and in the government’s basic spending priorities" that will, of course, favor the rich and punish everyone else, particularly the least among us.  Kornacki writes:

It wasn’t long ago that Ryan’s budget ideas were seen as outside the mainstream of his own party, too politically toxic for the GOP to etch into its platform. But the election of Obama radicalized the conservative movement, which embarked on a campaign not just to fight the president’s agenda relentlessly but to cleanse its own ranks.  Ryan’s plans offered these conservatives both a substantive-seeming alternative to Obama’s proposals and a way of coming to terms with the failure of the Bush years — if only we’d been following this roadmap, we’d never have ended up with Obama! Thus have they elevated him to hero status on the right over the past few years. 
This process has been abetted by once-pragmatic Republicans. Previously, they might have spoken up to temper it, but in the face of a restive base and the real threat of primary challenges, they acquiesced to the right’s Ryan fervor. The grief that rained down on Newt Gingrich for calling Ryan’s Medicare plan “right-wing social engineering” last year was an example to any Republican with an instinct to question the wisdom of embracing Ryan-ism. Both his Medicare plan and budget blueprint have passed the House with near-universal Republican support. 
And now Romney has acquiesced too. The most powerful and influential conservative forces within the Republican Party wanted this pick – badly. And because of his own shaky standing with those forces and his deteriorating position in the race against Obama, Romney found himself ill-positioned to say no to them. Vice presidential nominees almost never come with the level of intraparty enthusiasm that Ryan generates. There was no comparable push for Palin, Lieberman, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, Bentsen, Geraldine Ferraro or just about any other V.P. nominee of the past few decades.

And keep in mind that Paul Ryan is a Catholic.  As David Fahrenthold reminds us in an embarrassingly fawning fluff propaganda piece in today's Washington Post, "He is Catholic and has cited that faith — as well as the libertarian author Ayn Rand — as major influences on his political views."  Fahrnethold's piece is entitled "Paul Ryan: Midwesterner, Catholic, Intellectual."  It might just as well have been entitled, "Bishops to Uninformed Swing-State Catholics in the Heartland: Vote Republican!"

In recent weeks, the GOP has made totally transparent its USCCB-born, USCCB-bred strategy of catering to low-information swing-state Catholic "pro-life" voters in the hope that those voters will provide the margin that puts Romney in the White House this fall.  This is why the GOP began running those ads about Obama's (non-existent) attacks on "religious freedom" in the week before the Ryan announcement came down.  It's why Romney went out of his way to go to Poland recently and to yammer about the legacy of John Paul II, insinuating that he stands with "real" Catholics and hopes to have their votes this fall.

As you assess the GOP's long-game strategy, keep in mind that it has been crafted and is being brought to you with the deliberate complicity of the U.S. Catholic bishops.  Who make faint noises of disapproval as Ryan talks about dismantling social safety nets that will remove life support from the least among us, but who have for decades now leapt ferociously on any Catholic political figure who deviates in the slightest way from what the bishops dictate as their "pro-life" agenda.

Which has come to include constant attacks on a portion of the human community who happen to be born gay and lesbian.

We American Catholics have been asked for some years now to imagine people like Paul Ryan the intellectual as "truly" pro-life when they say, "I'm never not going to not vote pro-life."  And when they hold the hard, tight, mean line against full inclusion of LGBT people in the human race.

These things make Paul Ryan a pro-life Catholic who understands that some things are intrinsically evil, you see--and he therefore merits Catholic votes even when he's a bit hazy on that stuff about taking care of the least among us.  Nothing about that reaches the level of intrinsic evil, after all--nothing involving "economic" choices like whether to provide basic health care for all citizens or social safety nets for the poor.

Those are debatable issues that don't quite reach the moral level, and certainly not the level of "intrinsic evil."  They're "economic" issues, matters of prudential judgment.

Not like the "pro-life" line as defined by the U.S. Catholic bishops, which would torch a healthcare plan providing access to millions of economically struggling citizens in order to withhold contraceptives from women.  Or which would do anything possible to keep gay and lesbian people in demeaned social spaces devoid of fundamental human rights.  Just because.  Because they're gay.

Paul Ryan is pro-life.  Catholics should vote for him.  This is the message to which the U.S. Catholic bishops have been building for some years now with the active assistance of their super-rich handlers and of "intellectual" gurus like Robert P. George.

A more fundamental betrayal of pastoral leadership and of Catholic values is difficult to imagine.  A more fundamental abdication of all that it means to lead a church in fidelity to the memory of Jesus is difficult to envisage.

And yet it may well determine the outcome of the 2012 elections and, in doing so, may well determine the course of human history in a decidedly anti-life direction, if the Romney-Ryan ticket wins.

(And, since I have the charism of fallibility, I may be proven wrong--and be pleasantly surprised--when the bishops speak as a body to express strong reservations about the Randian tea party disdain for the poor and radical individualism Ryan represents.  But I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen).

The graphic is from Win Macnamee, Getty Images.

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