Ryan Shrugged

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If true greatness lies in the ability to think two contradictory things at the same time and not be destroyed, then I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for Rep. Paul Ryan. But over the past couple of days, the news for him out of New York has been less than stellar. Not only did his House-approved proposal to block-grantize Medicare lose the GOP a safe congressional seat, but Archbishop Timothy Dolan made clear on his blog that the letter he wrote complimenting Ryan on Ryan’s “assurances of your continued attention to the guidance of Catholic social justice in the current delicate budget considerations in Congress” did not constitute an endorsement of the Ryan budget plan (h/t MSW). Blogged Dolan:

[W]e extol universal health care…demand that
every budget and program be assessed on whether it will help or hurt
those in need, encourage international aid, and promote the principle of solidarity, namely, society’s shared duties to one another, especially the poor and struggling.

Dolan’s letter, of course, had been interpreted by Ryan and his boss, John Boehner, as a good housekeeping seal of approval. And over at ReligionDispatches, Sarah Posner was, not surprisingly, also disposed to interpret it as such. In that regard, Paul Moses at dotCommonweal and Amy Sullivan at Swampland have the better of the argument, demonstrating that Dolan had made sure to single out for praise an epistolary commitment by Ryan to helping the least among us, not his actual budget. Still, back at Religion Dispatches, Daniel McGuire has a point in characterizing the Dolan letter as an awfully cuddlesome piece of work.

Only obliquely did Dolan suggest that the Ryan budget might not itself reflect the guidance of Catholic social justice teachings. In fact, it would seem to reflect the guidance of the Social Darwinist teachings of the philosophical novelist Ayn Rand–which, no one could possibly deny, contradicts what Catholicism has to say about capitalism and social welfare policy. Whether that makes Ryan anti-Christian, as the American Values Networks alleges in their new video, I leave to the Christians to decide. But there’s no question that Ryan, who presents himself as a devout Catholic, is also seriously devoted to the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Speaking of devotees, Dick Cheney said yesterday that he “worships the ground Paul Ryan walks on.” Now there’s a profile in greatness.

Update: Michael Sean Winters tells you all you need to know about the Dolan letter in the New Republic.