Marc Thiessen v. USCCB

You may remember Marc Thiessen for his ham-handed effort to justify torture, despite the fact that it is an intrinsic evil. Now, at the Washington Post, Thiessen comes to the defense of Cong. Paul Ryan whose budget the USCCB recently stated failed to meet the moral criteria they had stipulated.

Thiessen of course does not attack all the bishops. He aims his fire at Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, who is the chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestice Justice and Human Development. Blaire signed the letters to members of Congress urging that they not cut vital social programs but instead consider alternative means of addressing the nation's growing debt. But, Blaire's letter was not the result of whim. He answers to a committee and is known for his highly consultative method of drafting such letters. He was speaking for the bishops, all the bishops, no matter how much Ryan and Thiessen try to paint him as some kind of quasi-socialist ideologue.

To be clear, and contra Thiessen, the USCCB noted the need to address the debt. They are arguing that the budget not be balanced solely on the backs of the poor as Ryan's budget insists. This is not a new position for the USCCB. It is not a new position for the universal teaching of the Catholic Church. It is only new to Thiessen and Ryan.

Thiessen states that Bishop Blaire employs "Obama campaign rhetoric." No he doesn't. Blaire employs the traditional teaching of the Church in making his critique of the GOP's budget. The letters the USCCB sent to Congress articulate three of the oldest and most foundational moral principles in Catholic social teaching - protection of human dignity, special concern for the "least among us," and promotion of the common good. In Ryan's and Thiessen's social Darwinism, there is no such thing as a common good, just a variety of individualized goods which may or may not redound to the commonwealth. Human dignity, for them, resides in buying into the Horation Alger nonsense, the idea that America is uniquely a land of individual opportunity, even though other countries now evidence greater social mobility than the U.S. Thiessen and Ryan have nothing but disdain for the poor. They put me in mind of one of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons from 1964, that illustrated Barry Goldwater walking past what was then known as a hobo and muttering, "If he had any gumption, he would inherit a department store chain like the rest of us."

I agree that we have a debt crisis that must be faced. I agree, too, that the President gets low marks for failing to address it although, coming out of a recession, the last thing we need are austerity programs. But, what the USCCB is saying, and what must be said again and again, is that any budget, like the Ryan budget, that seeks cuts in social programs but spares the Pentagon budget and that shovels larger and larger tax cuts to those who benefit already from the growing income inequality in our society, is a budget that can rightly be condemned as morally deficient in Catholic terms. It should not surprise that the Ayn Rand-loving Ryan should fail to see this. Nor should it surprise that the torture-loving Thiessen fails to see this. The only surprise is that they should so foolishly decide to take on the United States bishops on an issue where the plain teachings of Jesus Christ are so obvious in their significance - whatever you do for these the least of my breathren, you do for me.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here