by Rodel Rodis
August 16, 2011
When I attended mass at our local Catholic parish church recently, I heard the priest talk about the rich man who ran up to Jesus and asked him “what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” As Luke 18:18-24 recounts it, the priest said,” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven: then, come follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
I reflected on this passage after I read that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon whose wealth is estimated at $250 million, had picked a Catholic, Rep. Paul Ryan, as his running mate.
Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, is best known as the author of the Ryan Plan, which seeks to cut $6 trillion from federal spending over the next ten years by slashing domestic social programs while leaving the huge defense budget intact and by granting even more tax cuts to the top 2% .
Under the Ryan Plan, Medicare, which currently provides an average of $11,500 a year to the elderly, would be replaced by a private voucher system which the elderly can use to cover their medical expenses. But the voucher would only cover up to $6,400 a year by 2022 which would leave older Americans without any payments for expenses when they reach the maximum provided by their vouchers.
Ryan’s plan would virtually eliminate Medicaid and food stamps by offloading them to the states but not providing the states with the financial resources to pay for them.
The cuts proposed by Rep. Ryan guts almost 3/5ths of programs for low-income Americans. Although Ryan is a Catholic, the Catholic bishops have roundly condemned his plan as failing to meet society’s moral obligations to feed the hungry children, poor families and vulnerable seniors.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on the US Congress to create a “circle of protection” around poor and vulnerable people and programs that meet their basic needs and protect their lives and dignity. The bishops asked Congress to put the poor first in budget priorities and to oppose measures that reduce resources for essential safety net programs.
In their letters to the members of Congress, Catholic Bishops Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, and Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa urged Congress to resist proposed cuts in hunger and nutrition programs at home and abroad saying that “a just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons.”
Bishop Blaire also decried the unfairness of cutting food stamps while preserving federal subsidies for wealthy industrial farming enterprises.
“At a time when the need for assistance from affordable housing programs is growing,” Bishop Blaire wrote, “cutting funds for them could cause thousands of individuals and families to lose their housing and worsen the hardship of thousands more in need of affordable housing.”
Despite the earnest pleas of the Catholic bishops, the House overwhelmingly passed the Ryan Budget Plan.
In his defense, Ryan responded that he was helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on the government. Is that how a lifeguard saves a drowning man in a pool?
How would cutting funding for education, for mass transit and highway spending help the economy starving for assistance? How would removing funds for new sewage treatment plants and not replacing retiring police officers and firefighters help the economy? How will awarding higher tax cuts to the wealthy, as George W. Bush did, help the economy?
So how did a Catholic like Ryan develop a philosophy rejected by his own bishops? According to a recent article in the Washington Post by Rachel Weiner, Ryan was profoundly influenced by Ayn Rand, the darling of American libertarians and conservatives.
In fact, Ryan told the New Yorker that he has been reading the works of Ayn Rand since high school and it was her novel, Atlas Shrugged, that hooked him on economics. Ryan told the Weekly Standard he was still a huge fan.
“I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it,” he said. “Well… I try to make my interns read it.”
Rand invented the philosophy of Objectivism which holds that laissez-faire capitalism is the ideal economic system and that all people should pursue their own rational self-interest, and not look after the good of others.”
As Paul Ryan said in an introduction to a video in 2009, “I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”
In her novel, Atlas Shrugged, Rand presents American capitalists as heroes battling an encroaching government bent on milking their success. Fans of Rand include Rush Limbaugh, Alan Greenspan and Justice Clarence Thomas.
Rand has stated in various interviews that “the existence of God and the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice were untenable ideas. It must be either reason or faith.”
“I am against God for the reason that I don’t want to destroy reason,” Rand explained.
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