On April 26, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan delivered the 2012 Whittington Lecture at Georgetown University focused on his 2013 budget and its implications for poverty programs and the poor. That budget has now passed the House of Representatives.
Ryan addressed the Catholic institution "as a Catholic holding public office" trying to conform his work to Catholic "social doctrine as best I can make of it." He presented a vision that would be far more effective in helping the poor than current federal policies that have prevailed for decades. Georgetown is to be congratulated for giving him a high profile platform for presenting that vision. But too many among the faculty and students indicated that they were not interested in even listening to any new vision or policies, preferring to stick doggedly to the cutting edge ideas of 1935.
Ryan was greeted by a 50 foot banner asking the illuminating question, "Were you there when they crucified the poor?" That was accompanied by a letter from nearly 90 members of the faculty that already condemned his budget as a plan that "decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks for the wealthiest few." But Ryan's budget doesn't do anything like that, and the faculty members should have been ashamed to attach their names to a document reflecting political rhetoric and cheap party talking points rather than a serious discussion of the issues.
The letter continued with the same mindless political rock throwing, saying, "In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ." Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese intoned with prideful self-importance, "Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching. This is nonsense. As scholars, we want to join the Catholic bishops in pointing out that his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor."
But in his lecture Ryan demonstrated a far superior grasp of both Catholic social teaching and federal poverty policies than any of the 90 letter signers, none of whom displayed even a rudimentary understanding of his budget or that any of them had ever even cracked open Ryan's budget document, "A Path to Prosperity."
William McGurn accurately summarized Ryan's Georgetown critics in the May 1 Wall Street Journal, writing: