No one can say Mitt Romney hasn’t pitched his heart out to Catholic swing voters. On Saturday, he did so again, introducing his new running mate, Paul Ryan, this way: “A faithful Catholic, Paul believes in the worth and dignity of every human life.”
He was referring, of course, to Ryan’s position against abortion rights. But this spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took the unusual step of repudiating the deep cuts envisioned in Ryan’s budget proposal as out of keeping with the teachings of Jesus. One of a series of their letters to congressional committees read in part:
“I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs [that would] hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.”
In case you’re wondering, the same conservative Catholics who so often admonish the doctrinal picking-and-choosing of liberal “cafeteria Catholics’’ answered their leaders just as progressive Catholics have responded to chiding they didn’t appreciate: “The bishops were wrong on the Ryan budget,” the National Catholic Register declared again on Saturday. The cafeteria is open, but the menu doesn’t vary much.
Ryan has defended his proposed cuts as not only in keeping with church teaching, but also inspired by its teaching on subsidiarity, which has also caused a family feud:
Ryan “could not tell the difference between subsidiarity and sausage,’’ writes Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter. “It is true that subsidiarity advocates resolving all social, political and economic issues at the level of social organization closest to the individual. But, it is a two way street. If lower levels of social organization — the family, the community, local government — cannot solve an issue, then it is incumbent upon the higher levels, like the federal government, to step in. Subsidiarity, after all, comes from the Latin word subsidium, help.”
Nor is Ryan the kind of Christian who is likely to say, as George W. Bush famously did, that his favorite philosopher is Jesus. Instead, Ryan has said that it was Ayn Rand who inspired him to enter public service. Yes, the Ayn Rand who believed that religion was for the unevolved, and charity an affront to human freedom. She viewed the very idea of a moral commandment as a contradiction in terms, and in “Atlas Shrugged,” wrote that faith is “only a short-circuit destroying the mind.” In “Anthem,” she summed up her own religion this way: “This God, this one word: I.’’
Earlier this year, Ryan told the National Review’s Robert Costa that his so-called devotion to Rand was an “urban legend,” and suggested that he’d read her in college, like everybody, but had rejected that hooey as a
grown-up. Ryan, it’s true, has certainly never been an atheist.
Only, in a campaign video put out by his own congressional reelection team in 2009, he admiringly described Rand’s worldview as “the kind of thinking, the kind of writing we need now. . . . We are living in an Ayn Rand novel, metaphorically speaking. . . . Ayn Rand more than anyone else did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism and this to me is what matters most.”
He’s capitalized, too, on the claims of American bishops that the Affordable Care Act effectively declared war on religious freedom in this country because religious institutions are henceforth expected to provide birth control, which Catholic teaching bans, as part of health insurance coverage to employees. The bishops also see the Obama administration’s definition of religious institutions as too narrow.
Yet the Catholic faith is bigger than one issue and the concerns of believers are more like those of other Americans than they are different, according to a recent Pew poll that shows Catholic voters at this point favoring Obama by a wide margin — 51 percent to 42 percent.
The Post’s Chris Cillizza described Romney’s vice presidential choice as bold but high-risk, and that’s no less true for Catholics, some of whom are sending up prayers of gratitude, and others of intercession.
The Objectivists were unreservedly gladdened, though, and the president of the Atlas Society told Politico the “influence of Rand on Ryan as it relates to the role and nature of government is a huge step forward for the liberty movement.”
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s “She the People” blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.