The picking of Rep. Paul Ryan by Gov. Mitt Romney was one of those “yeah team” moments for tribal Catholicism. You want to like a guy much more that is part of your own faith and even more so when they actually seem to believe the same faith. We’ve had plenty of Catholics rising to the national scene that really didn’t even seem to share the same faith.
For other reasons I am delighted by this pick since I didn’t think Romney had it in him. I figured he would go with a safer bet and didn’t think Ryan was really in contention. There have been very few things that Romney has impressed me with in this campaign. He had previously made a promise that he would pick a pro-life Vice President and I figured there would be some wiggle room in how he fulfilled this. Gov. Romney certainly doesn’t feel like any kind of social conservative warrior – more in the ranks of social conservative tenderfoot needing to do a lot of work on merit badges. I would love my skepticism to be proven wrong, but being from Florida I have recent memories of “pro-life” Charlie Crist who changed convictions like a suit a clothes depending on what he thought could get him elected. I don’t think Romney is as fickle as Crist, but that is not saying much.
When Rep. Ryan had appeared on Raymond Arroyo’s show The World Over on EWTN I was fairly impressed with him in that his Catholic vocabulary was rather intensive and there was some serious engagement with Catholic thought. Prudential application of Catholic teaching in the area of politics is fraught with danger and of course there can be many valid criticism as to how well Rep. Ryan has applied them. In the area of prudential judgments this will always remain the case.
Vice President picks have traditionally been about helping the electability of a candidate and not about policy. Very few Presidents/Vice Presidents have be real friends and usually the state a VP comes from is of the highest importance. I don’t know tangibly what the Ryan pick does in helping Romney to get elected. Sure it excites the base to overlook the clinging moderate aftertaste of Romney 1.0 before the conservative makeover of Romney 2.0. But does it really bring Wisconsin or any other state more in contention?
That he is solidly pro-life is of course a boon and quite important if it is not just another piece of pandering by the GOP towards the pro-life cause. Much will depend on the relationship of these two men as to how important Ryan’s council will be. There is also a question as to Ryan’s leadership abilities if they extend upon being a policy and economic wonk. A Congressman on the ticket is certainly a weakness in this regard. On the bright side it is nice to have a VP who hadn’t already run for President themselves.
Ryan’s involvement with the budget can certainly be a plus since even discussing the topic and the fact that there have been no budgets passed since President Obama has been elected. Though of course any proposed budget cut is broadcasted as hatred against any group of people affected. Pushing grandma off the cliff will be representative of the thematic attacks in this vein.
The largest meme so far regarding Ryan has been his association and recommendation of the work of Ayn Rand. He has certainly referenced her work in the past and admitted that she got him interested about economics in the first place. The claim though that he required staffers to read Atlas Shrugged appears to be false as many present and past staffers have denied this claim. One of the problems is that Ryan seems more to be backing off previous influences regarding Ayn Rand than being fully truthful about them. The question is has Ayn Rand philosophy shaped Ryan as much as Rev. Wright and others shaped President Obama? When I was losing my atheistic faith I had turned to Ayn Rand and was comforted for awhile from her worldview. Many go through a Randian phase until they grow up – it was embarrassing that I was in my late thirties when she appealed to me and I read many of her books. There is something in the Randian worldview that is so appealing. The rugged individualist and entrepreneur against those that would be happy in their government dependence. Quite an appealing philosophy especially for Americans until you see that all the beautiful scenery has been grafted on a putrid foundation. Radical selfishness which is the bedrock of the Randian universe is the unseemly undercurrent that shows in her books and her lived-experience in her life was an example of the rotten effects. Though there are certainly truths that can be discerned from her philosophy and she did have some valid economic insights. It is just to bad as a Russian emigre she saw all the problems with Communism but none of the problems of the atheistic view that drove them. She was like a doctor who could cure some of the effects of the disease, but not the underlying condition. As for Ryan I really don’t see that radical selfishness is what drives his philosophy or is heavily influenced by this. In one interview Ryan said “Give me Thomas Aquinas…don’t give me Ayn Rand” and I would really like this to be a true Rosetta stone in understanding Ryan. I certainly like that he seems well familiar with the works of Pope Benedict XVI and has cited from them, but I have also learned to “put no trust in princes” and I trust politicians less than I trust princes. I really want a solid Catholic who is a good example to be elevated, but wanting is not reality and I am not ready to canonize Paul Ryan either. It is a sad indictment when we get excited about a Catholic politician just for apparently believing the faith.
It is always hard to sort through your own biases to try to look at a subject more clearly. It is certainly a very strange occurrence that we have a Mormon and a Catholic on a ticket in a year when religious liberty is so under attack. I it also an odd historical irony that having a Catholic on the ticket might ease the qualms of some Protestants in voting for a Mormon for President – who would have predicted that? Plus it will be rather strange watching the Obama campaign put forth the words of some bishops regarding prudential decisions Ryan’s budget while totally ignoring the steamrolling of religious freedom and the letters of every single American bishop regarding the mandate.
Plus in regards to political theater there is the interesting contrast between two Catholic VP’s Biden and Ryan. Talk about contrasting views and the differences in fidelity to magisterial teaching. They seem more representative of the Angel and Devil on peoples shoulders in cartoons. I can’t imagine Ryan saying anything like Biden’s “The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious I’m going to shove my rosary beads down their throat.” – though I really can’t imagine anybody talking like VP Biden. I certainly wouldn’t miss the off-color commentary at bill signings such as Biden’s this is a “BFD” comment when Obamacare was signed. The Vice Presidential debate should be interesting – maybe even for the first time.