By Deal W. Hudson and Keith A. Fournier
DANVILLE, KY (Catholic Online) – Thursday evening’s debate between the Vice presidential candidates was historic in the history of American politics: Never before have both vice presidential candidates professed membership in the Catholic Church and claimed with pride the name Catholic as an accurate description of their Christian faith.
Yes, both Ryan and Biden profess the Catholic faith. However, there is a certain irony in the timing of their debate. On the day when Pope Benedict XVI commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council – and presided over the opening of the Year of Faith – the two Catholic participants in this political debate show the stark contrast right within the Catholic Church which the events in Rome addressed.
There are Catholics like Joe Biden who claim to follow what is too often called the “spirit” of Vatican II, while rejecting the very foundations that important Council proclaimed. Then, there are others, like Paul Ryan, who grasp the implications of what it means to infuse the values informed by their Catholic faith into their political participation on fundamental moral issues such as the Right to life.
Paul Ryan’s Catholic faith grew and matured during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II. Congressman Ryan was only eight years old when John Paul II assumed the chair of St. Peter and 35 years old when the Pope died at age 84. Even those who disagree with him on some of his positions acknowledge his sincere effort to be morally coherent.
Vice President Biden, like many Catholic politicians of his generation, succumbed to the pressure of the secularist culture, switching positions on foundational issues and compromising the very teaching of His Church. This is most evident in his retreat from the defense of the Right to Life and his rejection of the truth about marriage and family.
Joe Biden promotes the profane notion that there is a “right” to abortion when every abortion violates the natural Law Right to Life. He recently endorsed the oxymoron of “same-sex marriage”, rejecting the clear teaching of His Church as rooted in the Natural Law. While claiming, as he did in tonight’s debate, that he endorses the “social doctrine of the Catholic Church” he directly dissents from it and then tries to use it to his political advantage by claiming he follows “social doctrine”.
Rep. Paul Ryan has faithfully represented the teaching of Blessed John Paul II in his historic encyclical entitled The Gospel of Life, the Catechism of the Catholic Churchand the clear teaching of the magisterium, the teaching office, of the Catholic Church.Though Ryan made his reputation as an expert in economics and budgetary planning, his voting record on the settled moral issues contained within the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church is entirely faithful.
During the debate he made it clear that he understands that what the Catholic Church proclaims about the dignity of every human life is not simply a “religious” position. Rather, it is confirmed by reason and science. His anecdotal story of how he and his wife viewing an early sonogram of their daughter led them to nickname her “bean” was compellingly presented. Biden seemed to squirm in his chair and stopped smirking for a while.
The simplest way to summarize the difference between Biden and Ryan is this: Biden considers all political issues of equal importance. He ignores the distinction between the moral issues concerning intrinsic evils – such as procured abortion – and those which involve the exercise of prudential judgment, meaning Catholics of good will can come to different conclusions in the application of principles, such as economic applications.
Ryan accepts Catholic teaching that the consideration of intrinsic evils must take priority over all other issues, whether the area considered is immigration, national security, or health care reform. Biden rejects this primacy and, while engaging in open dissent from his Church, clothes himself in the label as a part of his effort to present himself as some kind of “middle class champion”.
We have both commented previously on the differences between the vice presidential candidates concerning their understanding of the obligations of their faith and its undeniable call to moral coherence. The faceoff between Biden and Ryan on national television was our first opportunity to look more deeply at the differences between these two men in their demeanor or carriage and the manner in which they present their positions. This says a lot about the character and capacity of a leader.
What immediately struck both of us was the contrast between Ryan’s civility and Biden’s attempt to distract the audience with childish facial expressions and head-shaking. His smile often devolved into a smirk and his incessant reference to his debate interlocutor as “friend” was condescending and seemed arrogant.
Ryan, the younger man, never took the older man’s bait. He never descended into unpleasant mugging for the camera. Ryan came across as courteous, kind, smart, and very well prepared. Biden, on the other hand, acted like he was ready for a verbal brawl and looking for every opportunity to strike.
Biden was so unpleasant that, at times, he gave away one of his most winning qualities — he’s always seemed a likable guy — even to those who disagree with him politically. He did, however, have his good moments, such as when he pointed out that Ryan had requested money from the stimulus package for his constituents.
Ryan’s best moments were his clear responses to questions like the one concerning the future of social security — when Ryan calls something an “indisputable fact” his expertise, especially in economic matters, is obvious. Biden’s response was to ignore the coming bankruptcy of the program, look at the camera directly, and ask “seniors” to remember the level of benefits they are receiving.
Who is more compassionate? The man who wants to avoid the financial train wreck that is inevitable for both Social Security and Medicare, or the man who ignores what lies in the future, a future that will be faced by our children and grandchildren. This is a future that will not only have to deal with the possible loss of the “safety net” but also a crushing national debt that has tripled since the Obama/Biden ticket was elected.
It didn’t help, by the way, that the moderator Martha Raddatz cut Ryan off in the middle of several of his best comments, unlike Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the previous debate, who was extremely fair. Raddatz did not interrupt Biden a single time that we can recall.
When Ryan pointedly asked Raddatz, “So you want to get into defense now?” it was an overdue pushback. And she didn’t allow Ryan to elaborate on the budgetary issue she raised while letting Biden drone on and on.
At certain points in the debate, Raddatz completely lost control, allowed Biden to filibuster and, to his detriment, display a lack of manners. It was interesting to see the comparison of the number of minutes each of them spoke after Biden’s complaint during his closing statement. In fact, he had more time than Ryan.
Raddatz, however, should be thanked for her question about the two candidates catholic faith and abortion; she gave Catholic voters a chance to watch and hear each candidate talk about what matters most. Ryan’s answer was nearly perfect, referring not merely to the teaching of the Church but, as mentioned above, to the evidence of science and reason, as well as the personal experience of his family.
Biden gave the predictable answer of the Catholics in public life who have compromised on truth. He “refuses to impose” his personal religious beliefs on the American people — the classic Drinan-Kennedy-Cuomo-Pelosi dance step. Biden further denied the violation of religious liberty caused by the HHS mandate and Raddatz cut Ryan off when he asked Biden why so many Catholic institutions were suing the Obama administration over the mandate.
Biden’s brief excursus on the Supreme Court, his direct slap at Justice Scalia, further betrayed his sense of moral and intellectual superiority — “we are open-minded” to conservatives in general and pro-lifers in particular. This embedded attitude is the source of the arrogance that continually emanates from the loftiness of the Obama/Biden message.
In fact, if any strong impression is left by this debate it is the contrast between arrogance and courtesy, between empty accusation and rational explanation, between religious duplicity and faithfulness.
Biden did himself no favors tonight, and Ryan showed himself to be a man worthy of being elected to help lead our nation.
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[Thanks to Deal Hudson for permission to publish this essay on Quiner’s Diner]