Paul Ryan and the Poor

There’s an interesting Buzzfeed article going around about Paul Ryan’s increasing focus on policies to help the poor, one apparently inspired by experiencing during the last election and fueled by his admiration for Pope Francis. A few parts of the article betray a bit of an editorial sneer towards conservatives, but in general it’s well written and fair.

Ryan was there for a meeting that the Romney campaign brain trust had seemed, for months, intent on stopping. Since joining the presidential ticket in August, the Wisconsin congressman had been lobbying to spend more time campaigning in diverse, low-income neighborhoods. Ryan, a protégé of the late, big-tent GOP visionary Jack Kemp, argued the visits would show the country that Republicans cared about the poor. The number-crunchers in Boston countered that every hour spent on inner-city photo ops was a lost opportunity to rally middle-class suburbanites who might actually vote for them. Eventually, they reached a compromise: Ryan could give one big speech about poverty in Ohio and hold an off-the-record roundtable with community leaders who work with the poor — but the campaign would have to vet them all.

And then, as Ryan prepared to leave to deliver his speech, a tattooed minister who had arrived at the meeting via motorcycle asked the congressman if he could lay hands on him to pray.

Ryan looked momentarily panicked, according to some who were in the room, but then he shrugged and smiled. “I’m Catholic, but I’m cool with that,” he responded.

Secret Service agents tensed up as the group surrounded him and the man placed his hands on Ryan’s shoulders — inches away from his neck, a nervous aide noted later. The candidate made the sign of the cross, and the minister called on the power of God to give Ryan strength, and help him fulfill his divine mission. Several people present, including Ryan, became emotional.

Ryan left the meeting, gave his speech, lost the election, and returned home to Wisconsin. But several weeks later, he couldn’t stop thinking about that prayer. Speaking with a close aide, he said it was the most powerful experience he’d had during the campaign — and that he felt strongly he needed to act on it.

Ryan has spent the past year quietly touring impoverished communities across the country with Woodson, while his staff digs through center-right think tank papers in search of conservative policy proposals aimed at aiding the poor. Next spring, Ryan plans to introduce a new battle plan for the war on poverty — one he hopes will launch a renewed national debate on the issue.

[T]hose closest to him say Ryan’s new mission is the result of a genuine spiritual epiphany — sparked, in part, by the prayer in Cleveland, and sustained by the emergence of a new pope who has lit the world on fire with bold indictments of the “culture of prosperity” and a challenge to reach out the weak and disadvantaged.

“What I love about the pope is he is triggering the exact kind of dialogue we ought to be having,” Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel this week, adding, “People need to get involved in their communities to make a difference, to fix problems soul to soul.”

“Paul is someone who is very cognizant of the social magisterium of the Catholic Church… which encompasses everything from how we care for our neighbors to the idea that there’s hope and purpose and goodness in every human life,” said Flaherty, who recalled slipping away from the Republican convention in 2012 to attend mass with Ryan. “It also includes the ongoing duty of the strong to protect the weak — which I know drives Paul and his effort to help lift people out of poverty.”

Like many conservative Catholics, Ryan uses the doctrine of subsidiarity — which favors individual freedom and local governance over the power of large, central authorities — to reconcile his concern for the poor with his general suspicion of federal welfare programs. In this, Ryan has found inspiration in the teachings of Pope Francis, who said in 2009, “We cannot respond with truth to the challenge of eradicating exclusion and poverty if the poor continue to be objects, targets of the action of the state and other organizations in a paternalistic and aid-based sense, instead of subjects, where the state and society create social conditions that promote and safeguard their rights and allow them to be builders of their own destiny.”

Ryan echoed the sentiment in a commencement speech in May, putting the message in more distinctly Republican terms. “Concern for the poor doesn’t demand faith in big government,” Ryan told the graduates of Benedictine College. “It demands something more from all of us. If we continue to believe that the war on poverty is primarily a government responsibility, then we will continue to weaken our communities. We will drift further apart as people.”

A number of smart young conservative writers (both the ones who spring to mind for me, Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnuru are Catholic as well) have been writing for a while that in order to re-find the grassroots popularity that it enjoyed under Reagan, conservatism needs to move past the focus on top income bracket tax rates which was more relevant in the 1970s and focus on the difficulties faced by the poor and the lower middle class. While there’s a lot of moral preening on the left about focusing on the poor, there’s a reasonable conservative argument to be made that the progressive policies of recent decades have little to offer them. But the case can’t be strictly negative. Conservatives would need to refocus on policies and messages that actually help and resonate with the working poor on issue other than God and guns. Perhaps Ryan will become that voice.

14 Responses to Paul Ryan and the Poor

  • We shall see. His part in the sham budget deal, although I understand the politics behind it, leaves me much less certain about Ryan’s acumen than I was last year.

  • Ryan’s compromise budget bill stabbed in the backs millions of veterans (including our disabled).

    I’m with Phil Robertson. In the days when envy, welfare and sodomy were not in vogue, the working poor (those that weren’t evil to begin with) were not miserable or envious of anybody else. Phil covers that in the interview that was viciously twisted to make a trap for idiots.

  • I like T. Shaw’s observation:

    “In the days when envy, welfare and sodomy were not in vogue, the working poor (those that weren’t evil to begin with) were not miserable or envious of anybody else.”

    As I was told decades ago in one of my first 12 step meetings: “Misery is optional, but spiritual growth demands the pain of self-denial; the alternative is drunkenness and death.”

    Our society is drunk. May God deliver me from my self-imposed misery and envy – from spiritual drunkenness which always precedes physical drunkenness.

  • What an awesome experience for Paul Ryan that must have been! I wish him the best in his pursuits and hope it brings him closer to God. (The political benefits are hit or miss.)

  • I would not use the terrible attract word sham in reference to the work done by Paul Ryan. I think that budget agreement is an attempt to work in the right direction. A stepping stone.

  • and Kemp’s minority outreach was a bang-up success am I right

    Anzlyne: I don’t have a strong opinion on the deal ATM, it’s small anyway, but you gotta understand that any GOP move that doesn’t sharply cut spending/accepts normal % increases in future years is officially deemed a RINO sellout move these days.

  • “A stepping stone.”

    It isn’t even a pebble Anzlyne. The supposed budget cuts are completely illusory and the Democrats got rid of the real cuts caused by sequester. This deal was cooked up because the Republican establishment was terrified of having another budget showdown leading to another government shut down. Looked at it through a purely political prism I can see the point of the GOP establishment, especially with the Dems immolating themselves over Obamacare. In regard to the budget it was a complete and total sham of shams.

  • the whole point of the sequester was for no one to like it & it eventually to be removed

    whether what they replaced it with is optimal iono

  • Until I read anywhere a story or even a quote from Rep. Ryan’s own lips taking Stephen Fincher, (R-Frog Jump, TN) and the other member of the Pharisee wing of the GOP in the House, (GA) for suggesting that poor kids should have to work for their free food, Paul Ryan will remain the same in my book as a shameless user. The late Silvio Conte, R-MA, 1st District must be gyrating in his grave. He was much beloved by his entire constituency, Democrats as well as Republicans because he never forgot where he came from and to Conte, Catholicism was a way of LIFE, not another interesting concept to try now n’ then when Ayn Rand’s ideas proved their gross moral failings.

  • I’m with Anzylne on this one.

  • Paul Ryan’s one of the least fit men in Congress to sit on any budget committee. Like Robert “Sliderule Bob” McNamara. . . he knows a lot about facts and stats, but somehow he freezes whenever he’s asked to consider any possible ill-effects of his Ayn Rand-influenced affectations for the latest fad of “conservative economic thinking.” One could only imagine what an encounter between America’s engineer and cheerleader for austerity for austerity’s sake could handle a one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis.

  • “One could only imagine what an encounter between America’s engineer and cheerleader for austerity for austerity’s sake could handle a one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis.”

    Steve, the whole problem with Ryan currently is that he does not believe in austerity at all. At a time when there is no way that the debt could be paid by future generations he agrees to put together a budget plan that has only sham cuts. That isn’t austerity, that is nuts. I think that deficits forever is actually right up Pope Francis’ alley, assuming he ever bothers thinking about them at all.

  • Amen, Donald.
    For all the benefits Paul Ryan received during his youth as a result of his father’s tragic death when the future congressman was only 16, it still baffles me when I read of his decision to back cuts in military pensions, privatize SS and in general gut the social safety net. Heaven help our poor if Ryan takes a liking to the worst part about having to deal with anything like the assistance provided to Limerick, Ireland’s poor McCourt, future author of Angela’s Ashes had to contend with as a lad. Being fully Irish, I can forgive McCourt for exaggerating a point or two to make sure his readers would stay on the pages … but McCourt’s recollections are dangerous in the eyes and eventually hands of those people of my babied generation and our successors, armed also with the works of Milton Friedman, F. von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
    Like Ryan, I, too, never served in the Armed Forces. On the other hand, I was raised in a military family by my two beloved parents who never forgot their roots, especially their Church’s teachings regarding the poor. Having grown up during the New Deal, they also never forgot who kept their already quite austere lives from becoming worse, notwithstanding the fact my paternal and maternal grandfathers worked for Holyoke, MA’s “bravest” and “finest” respectively. My wife was raised in a family whose single earner was a rural postal deliveryman, as was his father.
    My two brothers both served in the Army and are now retired. The oldest of us three boys served near VN’s DMZ and is now believed to be suffering the effects of Agent Orange. Haven’t they given enough; and now a Capitol Hill lifer, who’s benefitted greatly from what government assistance provided him during his youth, openly advocates cutting or rolling back the earned pensions of those who served and possibly badly maimed and psychologically ruined.
    Ryan’s not alone with his (political/ideologues) calling too many shots within their “drawbridge puller” crowd now in charge of today’s GOP. Wouldn’t it be refreshing for the public to find out how many of this crowd now calling the shots and deriding the public sphere, eagerly snatched whatever government form of assistance which enabled them to leap over so many other equally qualified folks left picking up the tab through higher taxes. This is the “entitlement mentality” that GOP “team players” dareth not mention outside their offices or before a group that hasn’t been pre-screened and locations for their speaking engagements not thoroughly swept for bugs.
    WIth the exception of Frank McCourt’s description of the Vincentians, I’m hoping Santa will drop a copy of Angela’s Ashes down the Ryan’s chimney. We’ve had enough of Ayn’s Ashes.

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