With the presidential battle begun, the Obama campaign has revived the Cold War nuclear strategy of launch on warning. At any suggestion that a conservative idea might be threatening its ideological fortress, the American left now launches ICBMs of rhetorical destruction.
So it was after the Supreme Court’s hearings on the Obama Affordable Care Act, which put in jeopardy the federal command to buy health insurance. After the president green-flagged the assault, the Supreme Court’s “legitimacy” was in play. The Roberts Court, wrote one blogger, is “on trial.”
On current course, House GOP Budget Chairman Paul Ryan himself may exhaust their entire thermonuclear arsenal before November. Once again, the Campaigner in Chief threw the switch himself, calling the Ryan House budget “social Darwinism,” “a Trojan horse” and “antithetical to our entire history.” Rev. Samuel Rodriquez of the Hispanic Evangelical Association said the poor would be “budget-war collateral damage.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Ryan pushed back. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he said that in fact the Catholic Church’s “social magisterium” had informed his House budget. One goal of that teaching, he said, is to prevent the poor from staying poor. Nor, he added, should individuals become lifelong dependents of their government.
Just as the left thought the regulating reach of the Commerce Clause was beyond serious challenge, it long ago decided that none dare question the moral case for public spending. That social Darwinism speech Barack Obama is giving now in defense of federal programs isn’t merely a public-policy statement. It’s a Democratic encyclical. Paul Ryan’s ideas are worse than wrong. They are heresy.
Within the hour of the Ryan CBN interview, the blogospheric left went ballistic. “Ryan is shilling for the Catholic Church,” said Democrats for Progress, folding in another recently identified group of ObamaCare heretics. And: “Mr. Ryan has drunk the libertarian Kool-Aid.” A pro-spending religious coalition, the Faithful Budget Campaign, emailed, “The differences in what the organized religious community is calling a Faithful Budget and what Rep. Ryan refers to could not be more stark.”
What Mr. Ryan actually said is worth quoting, because it should revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government:
“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?
“To me, the principle of subsidiarity . . . meaning government closest to the people governs best . . . where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.
“Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto a life of independence.”
Subsidiarity—an awful but important word—attempts to discover where the limits lie in the demands a state can make on its people. Identifying that limit was at the center of the Supreme Court’s mandate arguments.
The first major use of subsidiarity as a basis for public policy was in Pope Leo XIII’s famous 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (though the word itself doesn’t appear). Leo was seeking a way to protect the dignity of human beings caught during those years in the tension between unfettered capitalism and unfettered government. “The State,” he wrote, “must not absorb the individual or the family.” Arguments over where the balance sits have raged since.
The American left thinks this debate is settled. So, for example, any hint of Supreme Court dissent from settled doctrine justifies questions about its “legitimacy.”
Paul Ryan insists the debate isn’t over and that its locus is the federal budget, which isn’t just numbers. The budget is the national government’s formal justification for the scale of the demands it makes now and unto eternity on the nation’s citizens.
This is the debate Barack Obama hopes mockery and rhetorical carpet-bombing can kill before the fall campaign. It’s only a guess, but I’m betting his opponent is looking forward to forcing the president to come up with a better argument for establishing a government in the U.S. that is subordinate to no one.