Insulting the Speaker

John Boehner will be speaking at my alma mater, the Catholic University of America, this weekend — as CUA’s commencement speaker. The most pro-life Speaker of the House we’ve had, I was happy to see CUA invite the Ohio Catholic.

As a student there points out, he is a “get” and one to be proud to welcome.

But before Boehner gets to campus, he has been greeted by an insulting letter from some professors there and at other Catholic schools (currently prominently highlighted by the New York Times). It says, in part:

It is good for Catholic universities to host and engage the thoughts of powerful public figures, even Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching. We write in the hope that this visit will reawaken your familiarity with the teachings of your Church on matters of faith and morals as they relate to governance.

One gets the sense this is supposed to look to be on par with conservatives (among others) criticizing Notre Dame for honoring Barack Obama and the Cardinal Newman Society’s longtime campaigns against supporters of legal abortion speaking on Catholic campuses. But it’s a false comparison.

The letter goes to lecture the Speaker:

Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.

Of course, the needs of the poor are not always best served by an overreaching, hydra of a bureaucracy. Certainly not at a time when that hydra is unsustainable. Many of John Boehner’s and Republican attempts to reign in government spending and encourage job growth might be considered morally responsible.

I have some knowledge of both the Speaker and the letter’s chief signer. I’d like to think they have more in common that I suspect either knows.

As we move beyond an era that has largely dictated the prudential calls of many Catholics in public policy, the folks who have predominantly run the Catholic bureaucracies could afford to be a lot more welcoming to their politically conservative brethren. The reverse is true, too. But when so many of those who have aligned themselves with the Democratic party have — as an essential component of that alliance — made such grave concessions on the issue of the most innocent human life, am I wrong to expect more humility than that letter demonstrates?

I welcome prudential political debates among Catholics. I just worry they can frequently be scandalously disingenuous.

UPDATE: Fr. Sirico weighs in here.

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108 thoughts on “Insulting the Speaker

  1. [...] grad this month. It’s the lesson for the politician. It’s the lesson for the professor who lectures the politician who has stood up for some of the predominant civil and human-rights issues of our [...]

  2. [...] this month. It’s the lesson for the politician. It’s the lesson for the professor who lectures the politician who has stood up for some of the predominant civil and human-rights issues of our [...]

  3. Flamen says:

    It is about time that the policies of Speaker Boehner are shown for what they are – anti-Catholic – by the professors at major Catholic Universities. He is supporting the proposals of Paul Ryan who is profoundly influenced by the ideas of Ayn Rand. This is nothing new for Republicans.
    The political figures who cite Rand as an influence are most often conservative or libertarian members of the United States Republican Party. Martin Anderson, chief domestic policy adviser for President Ronald Reagan, identifies himself as a disciple of Rand, and Reagan described himself as an “admirer” of Rand in private correspondence in the 1960s. “In 1987, The New York Times called Rand the ‘novelist laureate’ of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s nominee for commerce secretary, C. William Verity Jr., kept a passage from Atlas Shrugged on his desk, including the line “How well you do your work . . . [is] the only measure of human value.”
    Conservative and libertarian talk show hosts such as Glenn Beck, John Stossel, Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh have recommended Atlas Shrugged to their audiences. U.S. Congressmen Bob Barr, Ron Paul, and Paul Ryan have acknowledged her influence on their lives, as has Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas.
    The financial crisis of 2007–2010 spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis, and opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel. Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford wrote a 2009 review for Newsweek where he spoke of how he was “blown away” after first reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, while tying her significance to understanding the 2008 financial crisis. Signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests, while the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson quipped that “going Galt” had become the “libertarian-conservative’s version of progressives threatening to move to Canada.”
    During this period there was also increased criticism of her ideas, especially from the political left, with critics blaming the economic crisis on her support of selfishness and free markets, particularly through her influence on Alan Greenspan. For example, the left-leaning Mother Jones remarked that “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed”, while The Nation alleged similarities between the “moral syntax
    As an atheist who rejected faith as antithetical to reason, Rand embraced philosophical realism and opposed all forms of what she regarded as mysticism and supernaturalism including every organized religion. Rand wrote in her journals that Christianity was the best kindergarten of communism possible.” Rand argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest) as the only proper guiding moral principle. “The individual should exist for his own sake”, she wrote in 1962, “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” Rand held that laissez-faire, free market capitalism is the only moral social system. Philosopher Chandran Kukathas said her “unremitting hostility towards the state and taxation sits inconsistently with a rejection of anarchism and her attempt to resolve the difference are ill-thought and unsystematic.” The first edition of We the Living contained language which has been interpreted as advocating ruthless elitism: “What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?”
    The response of the university that “there are diverse viewpoints on these questions” is so hypocritical. What about the diverse viewpoints on contraception, early stage abortion before ensoulment, the ordination of married men or women, women deacons, the riights of unions, etc.? Do they get a free pass and an honorary degree?

  4. gstefan says:

    Two words “mandatum check”

    Lets see how faithfull the list of so called Catholic professors really are.

  5. Francis says:

    “The federal budget is a moral document reflecting the priorities and values of the nation and these priorities have consequences. The USCCB advocates for a budget that guarantees adequate funding to assist those in greatest need, who are trying to care for their children, gain access to health care, overcome hunger and homelessness, and find gainful employment.” USCCB

    1. Bruce says:

      Indeed, and they did not support Obamacare. Also, because abortion weighs more heavily than poverty, war, and health care, the Church cannot and does not support efforts to expand abortion, even if cloaked in attempts to expand health care. In addition, even if the USCCB were in agreement with you, they actually hold no power. The efforts of individual bishops trump the USCCB. Sorry Fran, abortion is a more important and weighty issue than poverty, health care, and war, and therefore Obama will always be a worse choice.

    2. Teep says:

      So Francis,
      since when has “adequate funding” meant “more and more money for poorer service”? Cuz that’s what we’re getting now. The problem is not a funding one, but an administrative one. As far as I can tell, a country with nearly 400 million people cannot sustain a federal health care system. It is simply not agile enough to run efficiently. Just like a monstrous business, it quickly runs over everyone, roughshod. I do not think babies, their mothers or the poor are any better served by simply throwing more money at the problem like our new Healthcare plan does. Which was written by insurance company lobbyists, by the way. Maybe if we freed up more money in the private sector, more people could actually use that money more efficiently than the nanny state does.

      1. Francis says:

        Bruce and Teep: The conversation is about the letter sent to Boehner by a number of professors, asking him to consider his Catholic faith when doing his job in the government, rather than cutting programs that assist the poor only to give tax breaks to the wealthy. It’s not about whether abortion is wrong, or whether Obama is better or worse, or whether or not there should be a federal health care system. Teep, do you have a lot of experience with programs that are set up to assist the poor? Those are the programs that the bishops suggest should get adequate funding. Can you give some evidence that the situation was “more and more money for poorer service”?

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