A few years ago, Peggy Noonan and I debated E.J. Dionne Jr. and James Carville at Boston College over the role of Catholicism and Catholic voters in American politics. Tim Russert moderated, and the debate proved livelier than most such discussions (with a disproportionate share of the “lively” credit going to Carville). So it’s not surprising I would take exception to Dionne’s column Monday regarding House Speaker John Boehner’s commencement address at Catholic University of America (CUA).
Dionne posited, first, that liberal Catholic academics’ criticisms of Boehner on social justice grounds did not garner the attention given to conservative pro-life Catholics who protested President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame two years ago. Setting aside the difference in magnitude of coverage generated by any speech from a president of the United States vs. one by a speaker of the House, Dionne’s premise about a double standard in the media was as wrong as the premise in the liberal academics’ letter on social justice.
As an alumnus of CUA and a member of its board of trustees, I was disappointed that The Post dedicated the first eight paragraphs of its news story after the speech to concerns raised by CUA graduate students in social work and 83 professors from Catholic universities around the country who wrote letters critical of Boehner (specifically, spending cuts in the House budget), while failing to mention that the 2,000 students present gave him a standing ovation. Online searches of the coverage suggest that this was the norm.
Dionne dedicated much of his column to quoting the letter from the professors, including a nasty shot that “Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress.” To some liberal Catholics, social justice is measured almost solely in terms of federal spending. Their formula is simple — those who advocate higher taxes and more spending are for more social justice than those who advocate lower taxes and less spending.
I understand why many Catholics measure compassion by how many Americans are on food stamps, and individuals and families in need of legitimate government assistance should get it. But many of us measure compassion by how many Americans can be moved from food stamps and other government programs to self-sufficiency through what Pope John Paul II called “the dignity of work.” Given the record of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress the past two years, if more federal spending created more jobs, we wouldn’t be stuck at 9 percent unemployment.
One of the reasons CUA honored Boehner is his tireless commitment to the Consortium of Catholic Academies in Washington, which keeps inner-city Catholic schools in the District operating. Over the past decade, he’s raised millions of dollars to provide children from poor families, regardless of religion, a chance to attend better schools. He also co-authored the bill to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program (enacted as part of the budget continuing resolution) to help meet “the desperate needs of the poor” for quality education.