Paul Ryan, Literary Idols and Catholic Wonk Words
(August 19, 2012)
Mencken was made for the cynical young man who aspired to be a smart-aleck. He wrote in his 1922 essay On Being An American, "Here the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head..."
From Minority Report [Mencken's notebooks), No. 172: "The only way way that democracy can be made bearable is by developing and cherishing a class of men sufficiently honest and disinterested to challenge the prevailing quacks."
Other Mencken quotes that come to mind: "The new logic: It would be nice if it were true. Therefore, it's true." "Sin is a dangerous toy in the hands of the virtuous."
Mencken had many insights about human nature and American society that are worth considering. He was a writer's writer. I still enjoy reading him and commend to all his autobiographical works such as the "Days" series. He had a fascinating life.
However, as I got older and matured in my Catholic faith, The Sage of Baltimore's aura began to diminish. What is now visible in the nearly extinguished light is a pundit who carried many of the worst traits of the modern chattering class.
So as I've moved on from Henry Louis Mencken to Evelyn Waugh, Francois Mauriac, Flannery O'Connor, Theodore Dalrymple (another insightful atheist), I can certainly understand that it's possible for one's thinking and literary hero-worship to evolve over time. I can see how someone such as Paul Ryan, the long-time devotee of rugged individualist (and pro-abortionist) Ayn Rand, could declare, as Ryan did to National Review, “Don’t give me Ayn Rand. Give me Thomas Aquinas.”
The problem with Ryan is that his conversion occurred awfully quickly. More significantly, I think, it occurred in the age of the Catholic political adviser.
The New Catholic Vote
The Catholic political adviser is someone who counsels politicians on how to get Catholic votes. Decades ago, nearly all Catholic voters were Democrats. Getting their vote was either an impossibility for the elephant or a cinch for the donkey. There was no need for advisers.
New web sites, publications and other media rushed out to meet the pro-life and prayerful, the young and thoughtful. Without realizing it, the latter had become a market for the commercially-minded, a constituency for politicians, an opportunity for opportunists. By the time George W. Bush was running for office, the Catholic political adviser had been born.
Armed with the lingo and yearnings of the New Catholic Vote; the Catholic adviser's job is to broker that vote by advising his employer on what to do to get its notice, what codewords to say. One such is "subsidiarity," a really wonky Catholic word .
The advent of the Catholic vote broker was not lost on the Democrats. However given the discernment (and senescence) of the typical Catholic Democrat, all they have to do to bolster support among their loyal faithful is to be pictured on page A1 with an archbishop.
Thus, the question is: Does Paul Ryan and any other politician who talks about Catholic social doctrine, really mean it?
Ryan wrote a letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan citing Pope John Paul II's Centessimus Annus, in which the blessed pontiff criticized the social assistance state for leading "to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”
All quite true, but do congresspeople actually write their own letters or speeches? Was this letter -- and a Ryan commencement speech touching on Aquinas -- really written by Ryan? Or were they penned by some sharp, young staff member who went to Notre Dame, or Christendom or even Ave Maria University?
The Prevailing Quacks in Conservatism
Beyond that is the question of whether or not Catholic social doctrine and its codewords are being used as con game props to further hoodwink Tea Party conservatives and social conservatives, such as pro-lifers, into going along with the dominant greedy conservatives' agenda?
Greedy conservatives are interested only in their own enrichment. They want only to maximize returns on investments and reduce costs. They care nothing about the general welfare, creating jobs, preserving the traditional family or upholding the dignity of human life.
Did you ever think that really, really, really being pro free-market might actually, in a way, mean being anti-business?
Greedy conservatives have duped the fiscal conservatives and family conservatives into believing that's what's good for them is good for everyone else.
The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine (1) digests many wonderful thoughts about such things as private initiative and business initiative. A sampling:
From No. 338. "...businesses create wealth for all of society, not just for their owners, but also for the other subjects [persons] involved in their activities...businesses also perform a social function, creating opportunities for meeting, cooperating and the enhancement of the abilities of the people involved."
"A business' objective must be met met in economic terms...but the authentic values that bring about the concrete development of the person must not be neglected."
From 339. "All those involved in a business venture must be mindful that the community in which they work represents a good for everyone and not a structure that permits the satisfaction of someone's merely personal interests."
As we move through 2012 and beyond, ask yourself: how many human beings, conservative or otherwise, wake up thinking thoughts like those?