Joe Biden, the Bible, and federal budgets

Ever since Barack Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination back in 2008, there’s been talk of making Hillary Clinton his Vice President. The combination of an African American and a woman on the same ticket would not only confirm that the Democratic Party is the party of progress, it would provide Hillary Clinton a launching pad for the White House in 2016.

Now that Democrats have had the opportunity to live through the gaffe-filled Vice Presidency of Joe Biden, some in the blogosphere are calling on Obama to tap Secretary of State Clinton as his 2012 running mate.

According to Ed Klein, author of the bestselling book “The Amateur,” Clinton was approached by a top Obama aid a couple weeks ago to see if she was interested in the position but that she turned it down after speaking with Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.

No one knows if Klein is telling the truth, but it’s not hard to imagine that team Obama would be looking to change things up a bit, considering Mitt Romney’s decision to select Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his VP has given him the lead over President Obama in several important polls.

In light of his popularity, the media has attempted to portray the young Wisconsinite as a sort of un-caring, budget-cutting, fiscal grim reaper.

Joe Biden, in an effort to cast Ryan in an even darker light, told audiences in North Carolina that even though Ryan was a nice guy, his budgets reflect a poor value set. “My [dad] had a lot of wisdom,” Biden said, and every time someone told him what’s important to them, “my dad would go, ‘No, no. Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value.’”

What Vice President Biden forgot to mention is that it’s been over 1,200 days since Senate Democrats passed a budget, during which time roughly $5 trillion dollars has been added to the national debt. The president’s promise to “cut the deficit in half” before his first term must have also slipped Biden’s memory. But that’s fine, he’s probably a little tired after spending all that stimulus money during last year’s “recovery summer.”

Strangely enough, some columnists still think that more stimulus and higher tax rates is just what America needs right now, and that Jesus would have wanted it that way.

TIME contributor Erika Christakis recently claimed that “As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50%…and 100%.” Adding that Sister Simone Campbell, one of the primary coordinators of the George Soros-funded Nuns on the Bus campaign, considers Paul Ryan’s budget proposals “unpatriotic” and “immoral.”

Unpatriotic and immoral? Where have we heard those words before? Oh yeah, from President Obama when he was running for president in 2008 at a campaign event in Fargo, North Dakota. It was there where then-Senator Obama called it “unpatriotic” for President Bush to add $4 trillion dollars to the national debt.

To be fair, there are aspects of the Romney/Ryan plan that haven’t won the approval of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but there’s much more ignorance of Catholic teaching in President Obama’s policies, and to suggest that Jesus would want a tax rate between 50 and 100 percent is downright blasphemous.

As CV blogger Tom Crowe points out, “there is no ‘give,’ in the sense Christ meant it, in ‘taxation.’ ‘Tax rate’ means the percentage of your earnings that the government demands of you by law and that you must surrender to said government or face punishment. If Christ’s words are to have any significance whatever, ‘give’ must mean a willing and intentional surrender or transfer of ownership.”

Take note, Joe Biden. Take note.

Stephen Kokx is an adjunct professor of political science and a featured columnist at Follow him on twitter



  • em1

    Your assertion that Biden was trying to cast Ryan in a “darker light” b/c he said Ryan’s budget reflected “a poor value set” is unsupported … and, in light of our bishops’ criticism of Ryan’s budget, unsupportable.

    How many budgets or how long it has or hasn’t taken the Senate to pass budgets are red herrings/nonsequiters based on the only moral relevant question about Ryan and his budget:

    Does it follow more the “gospel” according to atheist Marxist Ayn Rand or the “good news” of Jesus Christ?

    Our bishops have said it fails to meet the latter test.

    Catholics live in community, the Body of Christ. America too was founded to be a “new” kind of community where citizens cared for one another. Sadly, such an approach was far from the thoughts of Ayn Rand — and is not reflected in the proposals of the Ryan budget.

    See, e.g., below views of Presidents Adams and Reagan, and of early Pilgrim, Plymouth Colony Governor John Winthrop.

    Founding father John Adams said, the rich pay more for the military, & they should, for it is the military that secures their wealth…

    Compare Reagan’s farewell address:

    “that’s about all I have to say tonight, except for 1 thing. The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.”

    The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined.

    What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; & like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

    I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, & teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony & peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce & creativity.

    & if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors & the doors were open to anyone with the will & the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, & see it still.”

    The John Winthrop whom Reagan revered imagined the shining City that was to become America, the “New” England, as a commonwealth:

    what the oldest settlements/states (MA. VA) are still called.

    For they were created to be for the “common weal” or “good”, to establish a government that was a community, the City on the Hill that was to be a beacon of light for the world b/c in it all were to be for one & one for all.

    So it was not only the military Adams meant that the wealthy should support more b/c it helped secure their wealth — but all “public goods”: from roads & schools then & now, to in 1950’s (considering role of unions at time) what was called “industrial peace,” to today, school lunches for children, food inspections, air traffic control, etc., etc.

    Jefferson also said the purpose of gov’t was to restrain men from harming each other. That would include environmental/financial harms… and what it takes for gov’t efforts to prevent those.

    So the bishops’ question to us is: Is it moral for Catholics to support budgets that choose first to cut social services for the commonweal… especially those that serve the preferential option for the poor? especially that those same budgets favor the wealthy by further cutting the tax rates for “the most of these”.

    And our bishops have said “no”, it is not moral to do that.

    Compare the vision Winthrop had that Reagan so admired:

    City upon a Hill, 1630

    Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke & to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities,

    End Reagan’s speech:

    How stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, & happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, 2 centuries, she still stands strong & true on the granite ridge, & her glow has held steady no matter what storm. & she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

    Even just on this issue:
    Would President Reagan say today we were still welcoming all those pilgrims from all the lost places seeking home?

    E.g., does the Ryan budget preserve or cut funding for programs to help them?

    For, from early days, the Word of God said to welcome the stranger to your land.

    And Jesus, Mary & Joseph were doubtless themselves “illegal immigrants” in the night on the flight into Egypt.

    Likely if stopped by an Egyptian border guard, they might have had a hard time explaining who they were, what they were doing… and why they were in possession of all that gold, frankincense and myrrh: really, no, it was theirs, it wasn’t stolen, the three magi had given it to the child…

    • Seattle

      It’s surprising 40 people on this site “dislike” the shared-social-contract vision of America that President Ronald Reagan articulated in his farewell address, saying that throughout his political career it had always been his guiding political philosophy…

      especially since it was based on the City on a Hill Christian idealistic vision of what America could be articulated by early Plymouth settlement Governor John Winthrop (citing Micah).

      Cf. communitarian structure of early Christian communities as reported in Acts of the Apostles.

  • seattle

    In 2) (see 1) story last post), the Washington Post story from the “On Faith” column, we learn that the Ayn Rand (whose influence on him Ryan only disavowed last April after giving many paeans to the strength of it for many prior years) denied any place in her worldview (much less the primo one that Christ gave it in His) for charity.

    Yet it is Rand’s sort of self-aggrandizing capitalistic view (denying the claims of any sort of community but self-interest) — not Christ’s concern for the “least of these” — that is the solid foundation of rock on which Ryan’s budget is built.

    Here’s the 2) Washington Post story:

    Lisa Miller
    Belief Watch
    Republican Paul Ryan still has a Randian problem

    By Lisa Miller, Published: August 17

    Four years ago, when it was discovered that Sarah Palin attended a Pentecostal church in Wasilla, Alaska, the question ‘What does she really believe?’ became, temporarily, crucial. Does she speak in tongues? Does she believe in evil spirits? Does she believe that American forces in Iraq are on a mission from God?

    Now, nine days before the Republican Convention, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is under similar scrutiny. The questions in his case are different, but interrogators’ motivations are the same. By understanding what a politician believes about God and by taking the measure of his or her moral compass, people believe, it is possible to better understand the thing that in some circles is called “character.”

    Ryan is a Roman Catholic born and bred, a father of three who carries a rosary. His place on the ticket is meant to reassure social conservatives that the formerly pro-choice Romney is serious when he says he’s now pro-life.

    But Ryan also professed a longtime adulation of author and philosopher Ayn Rand, an atheist who held the rationality of self-interest (and thus, self-interested capitalism) above all other values. Of charity, that fundamental Christian virtue, Rand said this in 1964 to Playboy magazine: “I do not consider it a major virtue, and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them.”

    The difficulty of one person espousing two such contradictory value systems has been duly noted by Catholics and Rand specialists alike.

    Catholicism insists on making the poor a priority, on putting the first last and the last first. But despite a speech at Georgetown in April, in which Ryan tried to connect his political priorities to his boyhood faith (“The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it,” he said), Ryan’s budget proposal is entirely Randian in spirit. Its cuts to social services and its disregard of the needs of the poor, the elderly and the jobless is so complete that it prompted a stern rebuke from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a body that, as a practicing Catholic, Ryan might feel obligated to heed. (Unless, as a follower of Rand, he has problems with authority.)

    Inconsistency is a big problem for politicians, as Mitt Romney, still dodging the “flip-flopper label,” well knows. You can’t say one thing and do another; you can’t appear to be confused, or you’ll come across as confusing. Perhaps that’s why Ryan tried to reframe his allegiance to Rand in an interview with the National Review in April, saying, in effect, that his love for her work was a phase of callow boyhood.

    “I reject her philosophy,” he said. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts, and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas. . . . Don’t give me Ayn Rand.”

    But where politics — or at least a political campaign — requires a cartoonish clarity and, in these days especially, an obeisance to an uncompromising set of priorities, the practice of religion is, in almost every case, an inconsistent mess. This has been true from the beginning, when God (or the men who wrote the Torah) warned the Israelites against worshiping idols.

    The very existence of those scriptural warnings proves that the forbidden practice was there: The first Jews would chant their devotion to the One God in prayer and then go home to idol-worshiping parties with their pagan neighbors. And today, certain evangelical pastors publicly articulate their disapproval of the practice of yoga because so many in their congregations are chanting, “Namaste.” Questions about adherence to God’s rules — Which rules? How much adherence? — are foundational to thousands of years of theology.

    In other words, Ryan’s love of Jesus and Rand is a political problem. It is not, necessarily, a problem for his personal practice of faith.

    I would go further: Intelligent, thoughtful and careful inconsistency is the first defense of the faithful against zealotry. Only ideologues attempt to be religiously consistent in all things. So, rather than ask Ryan to choose between Jesus and Rand, I’d like to challenge him to articulate a world view that encompasses both.

    I don’t think he can do it, because the Jesus I’ve read about in the Gospels would laugh at the self-aggrandizing arrogance of Rand. But unless a candidate can explain to the public what he really believes about God and morality — and not say only what he thinks people want to hear — then he will come across not as faithful at all. He’ll look opportunistic.

  • seattle

    Two other Washington Post articles this weekend shed considerable similar light on how much Ryan’s budget fails at supporting the focus of Christ’s ministry: those that, as our bishops reminded us (thanks for the copy of letter, had not seen that before), He enjoined us most to serve, the “least of these.”

    In 1) the story about Is Ryan’s Budget Good For His Hometown? (short answer, often not), we learn that Ryan’s budget supported cuts to the very programs that are presently helping a large portion of his constituents survive after his town lost all its industry. (E.g., 50% of the children are on the nutrition program that provides school lunches: which would hardly be on most people of good will’s (Catholic or Christian or not) list of items to cut).

    Ryan apparently does not even take care of the “least of these” in his own hometown.

    But Jesus never discussed tax rates when flatly enjoining rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s (& doubtless the contemporary Roman tax rate was was extortionate — recall how hated the tax collectors were). But Jesus said quite a lot — in his life and most of all in his death — about “suffering the little children” and the primacy of love, sacrifice for others, and service.

    Will paste 2) story in next post.

  • em1

    You give short shrift to the bishops’stern rebuke of Ryan’s budget as
    “unjustified and wrong,” failing to meet the several “moral criteria” they offer as the guidepost by which “difficult” budget decisions” should be made.

    As Christian pastors and teachers, it’s hardly surprising that their chief lens of discernment in this regard is how Ryan’s budget failed to meet the needs of those whom Our Lord said his followers should most serve, “the least of these” (citing Matthew 25).

    Ryan’s budget is not a “pro-life” budget. How could Catholics support it?

    Here’s the letter:

    United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
    3211 FOURTH STREET NE • WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 • 202-541-3000 WEBSITE: http://WWW.USCCB.ORG/JPHD • FAX 202-541-3339
    The Honorable Frank D. Lucas, Chairman Committee on Agriculture
    U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515
    April 16, 2012

    The Honorable Collin C. Peterson, Ranking Member Committee on Agriculture
    U.S. House of Representatives
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Dear Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson:
    On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs. The committee has been instructed to reduce agricultural programs by an additional $33.2 billion.

    In allocating these reductions, the committee should protect essential programs that serve poor and hungry people over subsidies that assist large and relatively well-off agricultural enterprises. Cuts to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong. If cuts are necessary, the committee should first look towards reducing and targeting commodity and subsidy programs that disproportionately go to large growers and agribusiness.

    SNAP, also known as food stamps, helps feed millions of households; 76 percent of which include a child, senior, or disabled person and many include workers who cannot provide sufficient nutrition for their families. At this time of economic turmoil and growing poverty, the committee should oppose cuts in this effective and efficient anti-hunger program that helps people live in dignity.

    If savings need to be achieved, cuts to agricultural subsidies and direct payments should be considered before cutting anti- hunger programs that help feed poor and vulnerable people. Given current high commodity prices and federal budget constraints, subsidies and direct payments can be reduced and targeted to small and moderate-sized farms.

    As pastors and teachers, we remind Congress that these are economic, political and moral choices with human consequences. Prior to the House considering the budget resolution, the bishops offered several moral criteria to guide these difficult budget decisions:

    1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

    2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of
    those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

    3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially
    ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

    Congress faces a difficult task to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. Just solutions, however, must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.

    The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.

    We join other Christian leaders in insisting “a circle of protection” be drawn around essential programs that serve poor and vulnerable people. I respectfully urge that the committee reject any efforts to reduce funds or restructure programs in ways that harm struggling families and people living in poverty.

    Sincerely yours,
    Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire
    Bishop of Stockton
    Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development



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