A group of liberal Catholic academics, led by professors at Catholic University, have written a public letter to Catholic Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) calling for protection of social-welfare programs that they argue are mortally threatened by the current budget proposal. The lead signatory, Professor Stephen Schneck, invokes the Gospel mandate to help the poor—to ensure that “the least of these” get assistance from the state, especially when private charity fails. (Actually, Schneck made the very valid charity point on “The O’Reilly Factor” on May 12, though the point is not made in the letter.)
Unfortunately, there are at least three serious flaws with the letter:
First, the tone is seriously lacking in charity to Speaker Boehner, and even borders on the rude. I was surprised that the writers, from a PR perspective alone, didn’t tone down their emotions. Worse, the letter ends somewhat sanctimoniously by telling Boehner that he can rest assured that the professors will be praying for him and his vocation in public life. Their sincerity falls flat in light of their earlier language.
Second, and more significant, the letters fails to demonstrate even a remote awareness of the utterly disastrous fiscal situation that America faces. We have a $1.6 trillion deficit—numbers absent from this letter. For a sense of perspective, George W. Bush, going into the final year of his presidency, had a record—repeat, record—deficit of $400 billion. That was awful enough, but the current deficit quadruples that record, blowing the previous astronomical figure to smithereens. The Obama presidency and Pelosi-Reid Democratic Congress that preceded Boehner dug that hole.
Our national debt is far higher still. America’s debt-to-GNP ratio is at Greece standards.
The effect of all this on our currency, economic growth, credit rating, and much more, is catastrophic. And critically important, this crisis is not the result of a lack of tax dollars. It has been generated by a federal government that spends money it doesn’t have at an obscene and flatly immoral rate, in ways that would be literally criminal if done by the private sector. The single greatest culprit for the current deficit was the incredibly wasteful and damaging $800-billion “stimulus package” passed by President Obama and the Democratic Congress in 2009.
Sadly, the letter from the liberal Catholics to Speaker Boehner mentions nothing of the responsibility of these players in this mess, nor does it offer any appreciation to Boehner for the thankless, difficult task he faces in trying to begin to fix their disaster. It’s like calling the parent “cruel”—a word the letter directs at Boehner—for trying to clean up the house and discipline the children after they’ve practically set it on fire.
Predictably, the only spending reduction specified in the letter is “military” cuts. That’s not serious.
In truth, nothing will more undermine public and private attempts to help America’s poor than an economy that continues to flounder, or, worse, collapses. The deficit/debt levels—and insane printing of money—threaten to make a recession into a depression. We face a very real possibility of unprecedented hyperinflation that would be infinitely more deleterious to the poor than any spending reduction.
Finally, the professors’ lecturing of Boehner for a “fail[ure] to recognize … important aspects of Church teaching” would have more credibility if they had written just one letter to previous Catholic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her indisputably misguided attempts to fund everything from domestic contraception to Planned Parenthood International.
In January 2009, Pelosi informed a stunned George Stephanopoulos of her intention to include hundreds of millions of dollars for Planned Parenthood and contraceptives in the economic “stimulus bill.” Later, Pelosi publicly invoked the intercession of Saint Joseph—before a group of reporters and approving liberal nuns—on behalf of a healthcare bill that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops insisted “must be opposed” because of its blatant unwillingness to guard the unborn.
Talk about protecting “the least of these.” How about the unborn? Where were the letters from the professors on this concern?
Last month, it was reported that President Obama rejected Boehner’s budget by drawing a line in the sand over taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. As Boehner pushed the president to defund Planned Parenthood, Obama finally snapped: “Nope. Zero. John, this is it.”
How’s that for a deal breaker? And where’s the letter by these same Catholics to President Obama? Or, if not that, couldn’t these champions of social justice at least pause to express gratitude to Speaker Boehner for taking this stand, which clearly is in line with Church teaching? Or do they themselves “fail to recognize” Church teaching when it comes to unborn human life?
These are major flaws that will prompt many of us to dismiss this letter, even as we agree that the state has a responsibility to help the poor.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.