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Paul Ryan: Policy That Is Neither Catholic Nor Conservative -- More Non-Ideas From Mitt (Part II of III)

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All reflective persons at some point in their lives seek answer to the ultimate question: Why we are here? What is the purpose of life? What is our ultimate destination? Catholic theology urges us to look outside of our own wants and needs for the answer. "We find ourselves," said John Paul II, "by being of service to others." Ryan's proposed budgets have been criticized officially by the United States Conference of Bishops as inconsistent with the principles of Catholic social justice.

In Part I we saw how Congressman Ryan affirmed the much different, individualistic ideology of Ayn Rand. "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are," said Ryan in 2005. He mentioned two volumes: Atlas Shrugged and the more popularly known, The Fountainhead, a story of a talented architect who refuses to conform his work to the taste of the day and who would rather blow up that which is in demand and popular rather than have any role in its construction. Gary Cooper plays the nonconformist architect, Howard Roark, in the 1949 black and white Warner Brothers' portrayal of the novel.

This Tea Party pressure to have Republican candidates conform to a single hard-right ideology is ironic given that in Rand's novel, it is Roark's nonconformity -- his independence of mind -- that makes him an alluring character. Were today's conservatives more understanding of this freedom in the Fountainhead, they might have been more forgiving of Romney's occasional lapses into thinking outside the "no government " box. As it is, Romney's tendency to re-think (the pejorative is "flip-flop") strongly suggested the need for a more ideologically pure Paul Ryan. The Tea Party likes its political brew without variation or blend. Until recently, Paul Ryan fit this template well.

Ryan now says he doesn't like Rand or her atheism anymore. Indeed, he claims he never did. Instead, he is a fan of Thomas Aquinas now. That's nice, maybe tomorrow he'll toss his lot with Mother Theresa or some other combination of beloved saints and martyrs. If Ryan really wants to understand how his faith might shape public policy for the better, he might substitute the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day, for his cooling adoration of Ayn Rand. Ryan and Romney might even be able to construct a responsible private alternative to government assistance in Day's example, as Dorothy Day urged that one never needs an institution to do good; you can go out and do some now.

This is not a costume ball, where Ryan becomes whomever he thinks the crowd at the state fair wants him to be. Following that path will make the guy selected to bolster conservative confidence in the ever changeable Mitt Romney into an empty suit. And, of course, Romney is never want to sit out musical chairs, and he is already distancing himself from Ryan's budget, saying he'll have his own. Really? Are the ideas in the mail with your tax returns?

Ryan's philosophy is irreconcilable with Catholic social teaching. it is likewise dismissive of an older strain of conservatism that indeed seeks to "conserve" tradition, custom, the rule of law and a good deal more if it is viewed as "best practice." That conservatism sees man, as Ronald Reagan did, as in society with definite obligations to it. The intellectual moorings of this form of conservatism can be found in Edmund Burke, or more modernly, Russell Kirk, and more popularly, David Brooks. Ideas like promoting the general welfare are insoluble with the bitter Tea Party. That this is so can be seen in the Tea Party's targeting and defeat of Indiana's Richard Lugar, who, over six terms in the Senate, earned a reputation for the honest appraisal of foreign policy that was highly respected at home and abroad.

If your political philosophy is directly contrary to your faith and equally dismissive of the best substantive ideas of governance that conservative thinkers have offered, is it little surprise that the Romney, and now Romney/Ryan, are seen as a ticket without substantive idea.

Political reporters are repeatedly bemoaning the absence of substance offered up by Governor Romney. Like so many other vagaries in the Romney world, we should not anticipate Ryan making a serious effort to reconcile his distaste for using the federal government to achieve the good with a full blown set of incentives to accomplish the same through private means. Whenever a problem cries out for a national solution, especially for federal assistance through a public means bridging over market failure, Ryan will likely find it next to impossible, given his philosophical premises, to contemplate such failure. To the congressman, the best way forward is simply to give whatever dollars his soft-headed, empathetic Democratic colleagues have provided over to the individual person, or at least to the states, in a voucher or block grant form which will almost always fall short of what is actually needed. To which, Congressman Ryan is likely to respond: "not my problem."

But in Catholic theology, the problems and challenges of our less fortunate brothers and sisters are quite literally, ours. Devise a public-private partnership, if you want, or some incentives for wholly private entities to be more effective. Suggest something -- or explain again why you're a candidate for national office.