09/20/2012 05:45 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

Servile Before the Throne of Mammon

"They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes -- they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted." --Amos 2: 6-7

So spoke the Prophet Amos about the oppression of the poor he witnessed in ancient Israel. The hostility, the hatred, the enmity of the rich for the less fortunate led Amos to curse and condemn them for their brazenness and contempt.

Catholic social thought recognizes that governments have a responsibility to address the injustice Amos denounced so vividly. To Catholics, government can never be a night-watchman state, supinely permitting a long train of abuses to be perpetrated in the name of some bloodless abstraction like free markets. It finds intolerable the very idea that government exists to serve the powerful, exalt the mighty and suck dry the substance of those without privilege or access.

Government, for Catholics, exists to serve the common good. This phrase, "the common good," is a technical one, birthed by Aristotle, baptized by Thomas Aquinas. The common good must aim not to serve a particular faction or to benefit a particular party, but to provide justly for all members of society. Thomas Aquinas spoke of the common good as representing a just division of society's resources among all of its members. Thomas was no soak-the-rich, Huey Long-style demagogue. But he knew that the laborer was worthy of his hire, that all members of society need education, that every human being, regardless of station in life, was entitled to dignity and respect.

In the abyssal depths of 1931, as the Western nations confronted the wrack and ruin of the Great Depression, Pope Pius XI warned of those rich who would exploit and profit from the misery of the many. Beware, he said, of those "who thought their abundant riches the result of inevitable economic laws" (Quadragesimo Anno, para. 4). Governments, this modern Amos proclaimed, must take as their "chief consideration" "the weak and the poor" (para. 25).

Now, imagine the scene in Boca Raton last May, Mitt Romney standing servile before the throne of Mammon, his host Marc Leder the very caricature of a Philistine, a man infamous even by the wild and woolly standards of hedge-fund managers. The New Year's party he hosted last December was a "bacchanal" worthy of Nero himself, planned and appointed by his own private Tigellinus, right down to the Russian dancing girls and the flaming torches (New York Post, Dec. 29, 2011).

Standing next to this reeking Trimalchio of a host and his assembled guests, who laid down $50,000 for the honor, Romney did not uplift; he did not appeal to their better angels; he did not summon his audience to their solemn duty toward others. He did not speak as a president should. No, he sunk to the level of the crowd; he abased himself before their crudest instincts; he pandered to their cruelest stereotypes. He declared class warfare, the rich against the rest ("Mitt Romney, Class Warrior," New York Times, Sept. 18).

"There are 47 percent of the people," Romney ranted, "who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government," Romney continued his assault on half of the nation he pretends to want to lead. And what is the nature of this dependency? Mitt sneered: They "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

Mitt you are so hopelessly wrong. These are not entitlements that you can arrogantly dismiss. They are human rights. Food, shelter, health care are the common decencies any just society owes its members.

Mitt, you probably don't know any of these people you so viciously demeaned and belittled. But let me introduce you. They are children with autism, who need sheltered settings and supportive environments. They are the handicapped and disabled, who are given dignity and self-worth through meaningful but low-paying work. They are our soldiers in combat zones, who are exempt from the income tax while serving in the line of fire. They are our working poor, who clean our streets, pick up our garbage, wait on our tables, repair our roads and bridges, and ask only for food shelter and some shred of respect. They are our elderly, our parents and grandparents, who brought the next generation into being, taught them right from wrong, guided them, nurtured them and now need to have the love they showered upon their children returned to them in kind.

They are men and women who labored long and hard in our factories until the vulture capitalists, like you, came to kill their jobs and lay them off. They are migrant workers, who plant our fields, harvest our fruits and grains, and live in gnawing fear of deportation. You have already promised to make their lives so miserable that they "self-deport." They are our young people, who cannot afford to attend college, go into debt to pursue a rapidly vanishing American dream, and are then kicked to the curb by a dog-eat-dog economy where all wealth flows to the top.

Mitt, you want to be president, but you have chosen to wage class war on America's voiceless and most vulnerable. Your behavior is shameless and disgraceful and in no way worthy of a great nation. Really, a better man would think about stepping down.