NCR's Washington Briefing

Yesterday and today, I am attending the "Washington Briefing" sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter and Trinity College. The event brings together prominent Catholics to discuss the role of the Church in the life of the nation at this moment of history and it is well worth the effort that was put into it by both organizations.

In the morning sessions yesterday we heard a panel on the Vatican’s relations with the U.S. government, with remarks by two former U.S. ambassadors to the Holy See, Tom Malady, who served President George H. W. Bush and Jim Nicholson, who served George W. Bush. Then NCR’s John Allen and Tom Roberts spoke about the sex abuse crisis and Helen Alvare, former head of the USCCB’s pro-life activities rounded out the morning with a talk about abortion and the significance of the law. At lunch, John Zogby discussed the results of a recent poll of Catholic attitudes and then the sessions adjourned to Capitol Hill where we heard from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, Rep. Dan Lundgren of California and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Congressman Paul Ryan stuck his head in to apologize for the fact that the votes ran late and he had a plane to catch. Columnist E. J. Dionne also addressed the afternoon session. For more detailed reports, check out "NCR Today" where Joshua McElwee has some good posts on the presentations.

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I can hear the gasps. How could loyal Catholics meet with pro-abortion Speaker Pelosi? From the other side of the spectrum, how could loyal Catholics meet with Cong. Lundgren who opposed health care? Many lefties in the audience shook their heads at what Ambassador Nicholson said, just as I am sure conservatives will be upset with whatever Sister Carol Keehan says tomorrow. But, there is something wonderful about the fact that Catholics have risen to places of prominence in both political parties, that Catholics of good conscience and sound mind can reach different conclusions about the dictates of their conscience relative to the administration of justice, the application of laws, and the structures of government. Indeed, as E.J. said to the group, it is an altogether good thing that the Catholic Church makes some liberals squirm on the abortion issue and makes some conservatives squirm on social justice issues. The claims of faith should make us all squirm. Those claims come from the one who never fails and are given to us humans who know that original sin is our birthright. Already, Speaker Pelosi's comments about the religious justification for immigration reform are causing some controversy.

I can’t say I agreed entirely with all that was said by any of the speakers, nor that any of them failed to say something that had me nodding in agreement. This is why these kinds of seminars are important and useful. The Church must transcend the narrow concerns of partisanship and speak to both those with liberal hearts and those with conservative hearts. In both cases, we are called to pay attention to the kind of wisdom found more easily by the kind of heart we did not receive. What Dr. Alvare said of the conjugal act can also be said of a truly engaged argument: It calls us to recognize that someone else is the center of the universe. It is a thing too easily forgotten in D.C. and NCR and Trinity deserve credit for a symposium that reminds us.

 

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7 years 9 months ago
Jeff Landry beat me to it.  I was going to add that Mr. Winters and Paul Ryan have dinner some time and discuss issues.  Also it would be nice for Mr. Winters to guess someone like Paul Ryan on this blog and they could take both sides of an issue.  That would do the readers here a lot of good, no matter what side of the political spectrum they are on.
7 years 9 months ago
Its always been frustrating to me that Mr. Winters chose (as is his right to be sure) to spend more time on the Tea Party and lambasting the GOP for having no ideas (and sounding very close to Democratic Party operative talking points in the process) and ignoring Paul Ryan, whose budget and tax reform plan has garnered the attention of no less than Pres. Obama himself.  And while I agree with Mr. Winters that such panel discussions are good for both liberals & conservatives, given the way the Catholic vote has broken in a decidedly conservative direction in the last 2 presidential elections, I should think his side carries a steeper burden of proof.
James Lindsay
7 years 9 months ago
Paul Ryan's budget plan is not the panacea some make it out to be. In fact, the way it privatizes social insurance makes it pretty much DOA. In a Paul Ryan world, yesterday's miscue by one trader, which dropped the Dow by 1000 points, would have had the elederly lining up for cat food.

I like my plan a bit better - and it is a bit more radical than Ryan's, which is based on faux libertarianism. Any solution which attacks government and not capitalism is corporatism, not libertarianism, because it merely replaces one master for another. Privatizing social security in such a way that employees replace shareholders and the employee-held firm replaces all outside lenders and government service providers is the only real way to get to liberty.
7 years 9 months ago
Well, Mr. Bindner, your plan has been tried, and failed (see ''Dustpin of History'').  And your assertion that any reform that fails to address ''Capitalism'' is essentially corporatism is a non sequitur.  There are, of course, various types or forms of capitalism, so you could have reforms aimed at breaking up the dominance of large multi-national firms.  The most plausible to me is along the lines of Michael Sandel's or David Cameron's plans, but both plans remain largely too liberal for most Americans.  On that point, see quote below.  Re: Paul Ryan, all I'll say is that I don't think HE considers his plan to be a panacea, but it is a plan, which is more than anyone in either party has been able to muster.
 
Interesting that Mr. Winters alludes to, but does not quote, Mr. Zogby's poll.  Perhaps because the referenced blog has this statement:
 
''And pollster John Zogby released his newest statistics on Catholic attitudes showing steep disapproval for Obama's actions, for the direction he's taking the country and for the health care legislation.'' 
 
Oh my.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
I agree with MSW, the Church can't be identified with political parties, but must "speak to both those with liberal hearts and those with conservative hearts".
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 9 months ago
How has Mr. Bindner's plan failed? He is not talking about state-run collectives. Companies do exist that are collectively owned by the people who do the work. I suppose they can exist as long as they aren't considered a threat by the godzillacorporations, which have practically unlimited power and resources. The other threat is the availability of desperate (virtual slave) cheap labor in other countries to the godzillacorporations.

An historical precedent to working collectives might be the monasteries of the middle ages. They became very (scandalously?) rich and successful. Was it the setup of "ora et labora" in what was essentially a worker's collective? I'm not a historian. I wish one would answer.

I think innovative alternatives to wage slavery are to be hoped for. It depends on believing that human and spiritual living (including good work) is more important than obsession with making large amounts of money. If this can be done from the ground up, it will have nothing to do with government socialism, only needing a government that won't do the bidding of the g-corps and that will maintain a level playing field.
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
Good to learn about this "briefing" (although I notice other self-identified Catholic websites haven't reported on this).  American Catholics really are diverse in their political loyalties (although 54% voted for Obama).
 
I agree with Michael about Ryan's plan. Also, I'm interested to know why we should consider Ryan a compelling Catholic thinker/figure.  Here's how he explains what motivates him: "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." ...
7 years 9 months ago
But the ideas of someone who credits avowed leftist atheists as his inspiration should be given more credibility?  American capitalism, despite its inherent inefficiencies, remains the most durable and effective means of allocating goods & resources, rewarding risk-taking and entreprneurship AND respects the fundamental dignity and liberty of the individual working in community.  Those who want to replace it with something else bear the burden of proof; unfortunately for them, the examples they might point to appear quite dim (Greece; statist Scandinavia).
 
All I want is some intellectual integrity; which we might all agree are sorely lacking on both sides.
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
 
 
Neither our Catholic faith nor our American political and economic system are compatible with Ayn Rand's ideas.  
7 years 9 months ago
''An historical precedent to working collectives might be the monasteries of the middle ages. They became very (scandalously?) rich and successful. Was it the setup of ''ora et labora'' in what was essentially a worker's collective? I'm not a historian. I wish one would answer.''
 
The main way they became wealthy is because they prayed.  I am not being facetious.  The rich would donate money to them for Masses and prayers so that they would pray for their souls and the reduction of time in purgatory.  That way they accumulated land and many other things.  They were also very industrious and ingenious and some of the first inventors of efficient production.
 
Socialism has failed in every attempt but one and that success voluntarily disbanded socialism after one generation.  These are the Jewish kibbutzs and were once the darling of the left until they abandoned socialism but now are pariah to liberals.  The Soviets were early supporters of Israel.  This site typically distorts things about Israel.
7 years 9 months ago
''Neither our Catholic faith nor our American political and economic system are compatible with Ayn Rand's ideas.  ''
 
Certainly this is true for religion because Ayn Rand was an atheist but so are many who control the Democrat party.  They are just less open about it.  I am not an expert on Rand except that I instinctually had sympathy for Howard Roark to be the owner of one's own ideas.  She championed individual rights and opposed group rights which is a very American idea.  She was a supporter of capitalism and one opposed to statism such as communism, fascism, socialism and the welfare state.
 
So I can see how someone could be a very good Catholic and adhere to some of Ayn Rand's ideas though not all.  I would think an objective of Catholics would be an elimination of the Welfare State because it would not be needed.  That certainly is a conservative objective, the elimination of any help to the poor because there would be no poor.  I know that is pie in the sky because there will always be some poor but the way conservatives want to deal with it is to have as many as possible be self sufficient.  That is a key difference between conservatives and liberals, how to get to such a society.  
 
Certainly Democrat programs have not done it.  Just look at the inner cities and you will see the failure of the Great Society and many noble Democrat experiments.  It certainly was not due to a lack of money as several trillion has been poured into these programs since the 1960's.  So I would think Catholics might want to consider some of Ayn Rand's ideas though not all.  After all it just might be better social justice.
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
 
My question was about Ryan and why we should consider him a compelling Catholic politician. His inspiration to public life was someone who is so "un-Catholic" -not just on specific issues but in her world view.   To be sure, we pick ideas from a wide array of thinkers of all political and religious stripes but she seems like an odd choice.
 
What is there in Catholic conservatism(authority, tradition, organic society) that fits with Rand's version of individualism? 
James Lindsay
7 years 9 months ago
The leftists I am more likely to credit is Pope Leo XIII and of late Benedict XVI. If you were at all familiar with my book, you would know that in my first chapter after the introduction, I offer my proof of the existence of God - mainly because offering any kind of collective solution opens one up to charges of atheism. While Marxian economics definitely has some predictive truth to it regarding both alienation and trade policy, I reject its call for revolution - just as I reject the anarchist and Libertarian Party contention that it is better to educate people to reject government rather than to enact reforms which continue taxation but move toward liberty.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
I wonder if there is any room in this discussion for the communitarianism of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.  After all, there was a post on this blog recently about zombies that came to the conclusion that the only way to save ourselves was through trusting and depending on each other.
 
Peter Maurin says that when everyone tries to be better off, no one is better off, that everyone would be rich if no one tried to be richer and nobody would be poor if everyone tried to be poorest.
 
Or is this idea just too radical, too much of a risk?
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
I wonder if there is any room in this discussion for the communitarianism of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.  After all, there was a post on this blog recently about zombies that came to the conclusion that the only way to save ourselves was through trusting and depending on each other.
 
Peter Maurin says that when everyone tries to be better off, no one is better off, that everyone would be rich if no one tried to be richer and nobody would be poor if everyone tried to be poorest.
 
Or is this idea just too radical, too much of a risk?
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Bindner, please stop with the shameless plugs; nobody reads your book and from what I can tell, nobody reads your blog either.
 
And Mr. Obama is certainly outspoken in his crediting Saul Alinsky & William Ayres for his inspiration.
 
I agree that Rand is not compatible with Catholic economic teaching, but I don't find Catholic economic teaching, such as it is (are they still promoting "guilds"?) very compelling.  I would hardly think that some of the liberals on here would object to a Catholic stating he doesn't find Church teaching on a particular point compelling.  And it seems awfully unfair to me to dismiss the ideas of one person simply because of a quote four years ago to a magazine.  I mean if people object to conservatives dismissing Nancy Pelosi's gross mistatements of Catholic teaching, then what's good for the goose is good for the gander.  
 
Again, all I want from BOTH sides, is intellectual integrity.  Dismissing Paul Ryan is hardly a sign of such a thing. 
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
Jeff:
 
C'mon Jeff-that's not a very nice way to treat people.
 
Although I don't always agree with Michael (and, frankly, I'm not always clear about his position on certain issues!), he conducts himself in a respectful manner and adds substance to the blog. 
 
BTW, I was not "dismissing" Ryan. I asked if you could to tell me more about the Wisconsin legislator but you haven't done that. 
7 years 9 months ago
I know very little about Paul Ryan as a Catholic.  But he has been very vocal about the budget and made himself very knowledgeable on the topic.  He is difficult to debate on the numbers and confronted Obama very forcefully during the meeting with Congress on health care.  Here is the video.  Check Obama's reactions to Ryan.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPxMZ1WdINs
 
He has been pushing his Road Map for America for a couple years and it is aimed at solving the budget and entitlement problem.  Here is his website for this
 
http://www.roadmap.republicans.budget.house.gov/
 
The problem is that too many people will object to any change and each party will demagogue it. It is interesting that here we have Republicans defending Granny when is usually the Democrats who are saying the Republican will have the elderly eating dog food.   Reducing benefits and public salaries is an obvious help to the problem but no one will accept that despite the fact most got generous raises during the good years.  Increasing taxes affects behavior and usually ends up with less over all revenue and fewer jobs.  So as many are saying now, we are on our ways to becoming Greece, but not for a few years.  The real hammer has not hit yet but is near and that is the public employee pensions, both teachers and non teachers.  They are on their way from California for a bail out at this moment.
 
I heard one commentator saying that he was hearing that Paul Ryan will be president some day.  I have no idea if this is true but he is certainly one who knows his stuff.
 
 
7 years 9 months ago
''What is there in Catholic conservatism(authority, tradition, organic society) that fits with Rand's version of individualism? ''
 
By definition, Catholic conservatism fits just nicely into Rand's version of individualism.  Rand does not dictate how one is to be an individual.  They could be so by joining a group.  By letting people be individualistic in any way they want the Catholic Church can survive very well in such a society.  It is one that outlaws individualism that is to be feared.  Because one does not know what brand of conformity will be the only one eventually sanctioned.  Remember the famous poem from the Nazi Germany pastor that ended, ''THEN THEY CAME for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.''  
 
You better believe, the secularist who run the Democrat Party will eventually come for the Catholics if they have their way.  Just read David Carlin's book.  So this commenter has inadvertently hit upon the reason we should fear group homogenizing attempts unless it is voluntary and especially the group identity politics of the Democrat Party.  The secularists claim they speak for freedom but in reality disdain it.
 
The irony is that the commenter is defending the authority and tradition of the Catholic Church while I get the feeling that there is a whole host of individuals here who want to tear down that organization based on their individual preferences and remake it based on their own druthers.  We had a similar effort 500 years ago in Germany and Switzerland and today there are 10,000 versions of that movement.  I believe they called it reform.
 
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
Rand scorned religion and those who advocated tradition, authority,and organic community.  
7 years 9 months ago
''Rand scorned religion and those who advocated tradition, authority,and organic community.''
 
Your seem to be missing the point I am trying to make.  No one is advocating Rand's views on religion only that some of her views may be supportive for an environment that would not be hostile to the Church.  If you don't believe that the current society is hostile to Catholicism then I think you are not looking very hard.  Modern day secularism is definitely hostile to Catholicism and religion in general.  If one were going to choose Rand's views which do not approve of religion but in practice are indifferent to it or the secularism that is promulgated by the Democrat Party, then it is a no brainer which is better.
 
I personally have no interest in the atheism pronounced by Sartre or most of his views but he had a couple ideas that I found extremely valuable in how one leads their life.  So when someone says they find some of Rand's ideas useful, I agree and find these ideas no way contradictory to my faith.  That one should receive the fruit of one's labors is one I agree with.  Now what one then does with those gifts which ultimately come from God, is at the true essence of what it means to be a Catholic.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
Who are these "secularist" leaders of the Democratic Party?  And what is a "secularist" anyway?
As far as I can tell the leaders of the Democratic Party are just as likely to be religious as the leaders of the Republican Party.  The top 5 leaders listed on the Democratic Party website are Catholic:
Nancy Pelosi - Catholic
Harry Reid- Mormon
Tim Kaine - Catholic (who btw, I admire enourmously for his courage to introduce prison reform to this country)
Joe Manchin (Gov of W. Va) - Catholic
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) - Catholic
I enjoyed Ayn Rand's books very much when I was in college, and like her very much, personally, from the interviews I've seen of her.  However I think that her theories, both spiritually and economically, were flawed.  Even Alan Greenspan, who was one of her students, had to admit that her theories were flawed.
I'm putting all my cards and chips in with Catholic Social Teachings, and the Democrats are just as likely to follow and value them as the Republicans.
 
 
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
Thanks Beth for your points, especially regarding Rand.  I, too, read Rand in college and more recently Jennifer Burns' biography of her.  Your emphasis Catholic social teachings & public service is important.
 
I have no idea what Cosgrove means when (s)he writes: "No one is advocating Rand's views on religion only that some of her views may be supportive for an environment that would not be hostile to the Church."   I haven't found a single of these ideas. Do you know of any?  A good introduction to her thinking is THE VOICE OF REASON (1962) where she wrote that the individual "must exist for his own sake neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself." Not exactly the "Sermon on the Mount."
 
It is perfectly fine for Rep. Ryan to cite her as his chief inspiration but how on earth Catholics of any ideological stripe see him as a compelling Catholic figure is beyond me.
 
I'll sign off on this particular posts but welcome any citations Cosgrove can provide from Rand's work that might support his/her claim.
 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
I'm a little rusty on Ayn Rand, Vince, but what I remember of her was her glorification of capitalism and the right of the individual to go for it.  If the society supported the right of the individual to get as rich as (s)he could (the government should absolutely not get in the way), everything would be prosper, the wealth would trickle down, and we would have an ideal society.
 
I don't think she figured on greed, or the corruption that wealth for the sake of wealth would do to the soul of a person or nation.  But then, she didn't care much about souls anyway, being an atheist.
 
Her books were actually thrilling for a young adult to read because she seemed so radical.  But she was also staunchly pro-abortion, and ultimately, I concluded, full of herself.  It was all too "rational" and one-sided.  Basically, another heresy.
7 years 9 months ago
I think people should read my comments and then respond to what I said, not to something else.  I have no attraction to anyone who is an atheist when they are discussing that and have no respect for atheism.  Atheism is intellectually bankrupt and if Ms. Rand were alive today she would have a hard time defending atheism given the scientific breakthroughs of the last 50 years.  
 
My comments about her had to do with a political philosophy, one that would let the Catholic Church thrive if she was honest about her convictions.  She detested religion but as I said she would have a hard time defending that today but like Voltaire's famous quote, she should defend the Church's right to be just what it wanted to be or else she would have been a hypocrite.  She advocated a sort of libertarian view of life that would let the Church flourish because it would not have to be libertarian in a libertarian world.  That is the point that is being missed.  Once a libertarian starts defining what must happen, they no longer are libertarians.  I read a libertarian website quite frequently though I do not describe my self as a libertarian though I have some sympathies for parts of it.  I do not find libertarians anti religion at all even though many are anything but religious.  If I thought the libertarian message was anti religious, I would be out of there quickly.  As I said many libertarians claim to atheist but they rarely discuss it.
 
But a statist is just the opposite.  They by definition will not protect libertarians, their philosophy or in reality anything that opposes their own statist views.  People here fail to see the difference.  The Church would have a hard time flourishing in a statist world because eventually the rules of the state and the Church would conflict and guess which would have to go.  We are seeing it now in the efforts to force the Church to conform on various aspects of what is considered politically correct.
 
So it is this aspect of Ayn Rand's philosophy that I endorse and I bet it is what Paul Ryan endorses too.  Why doesn't someone like Mr. Winters try to pin it down.  I have not read anything that Paul Ryan has written that I disagree with but I am certainly not one who is an expert on his beliefs.  The fact that he has a 100% rating by NRLC and 0% by NARAL is indicative of where Ayn Rand values have taken him. I have to believe Ayn Rand would have defended abortion.   A typical libertarian would be one that is fiscally conservative but socially liberal.  But Paul Ryan is not socially liberal so he fails the Ayn Rand test there as his anti abortion voting record indicates.  His leanings are probably like mine towards things that Ayn Rand advocated that are most likely in the economic area.  The reason why I hold these leanings has less to do with philosophy but with the fact that they work for the betterment of society.  And as such are better social justice.
 
As far as the Democrats being secularist.  I again suggest you read David Carlin's book.  I actually think there is a stronger case than he makes and his is a very strong case of who is running the Democrat party.  Few if any politicians can get elected with an anti religious message but that does not stop them from giving lip service to religion or voting on like it does not matter.  What one says is their religion is far different from whether they are a believer and a practitioner and how they vote.  Paul Ryan has a 0% Americans United rating and Pelosi and Reid have a 100% rating.

 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
It sounds like David Carlin's book (published in 2006) is very similar to the one Michael Sean Winters wrote: Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats (published in 2008).
I have read MSW's book, and not Carlin's, but it appears to me that MSW came to the same conclusions that Carlin did, and took them a little further.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 9 months ago
"She [Ayn Rand] detested religion but as I said she would have a hard time defending that today but like Voltaire's famous quote, she should defend the Church's right to be just what it wanted to be or else she would have been a hypocrite.  She advocated a sort of libertarian view of life that would let the Church flourish because it would not have to be libertarian in a libertarian world."
 
Could this be a definition of a "secularist"?
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 9 months ago
I read Rand's "Anthem" years ago. In her novel, it is years after civilization has collapsed in the aftermath of the takeover of socialism. Some fellow who is representative of Rand's creative individualistic hero reinvents the light bulb all by himself. At the same time, she lampoons the socialists, having a socialist painting depicting the twenty men who invented the candle. Funny stuff but not accurate.

The light bulb was invented by the efforts of a team put together by Edison. And they relied on scientific ideas already in currency at the time. It was that 99% of collective perspiration that finally did the trick.

Sometimes it's the individual thinker, sometimes teams of thinkers. Team effort is especially important, now that no one human brain can contain everything there is to know. Our tribal, collective ways got us to the top of the food chain. It probably stll provides the substrate that makes even selfish capitalism possible.

7 years 9 months ago
FINALLY Paul Ryan gets mentioned!!!!
 
I'll take what I can get.

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