Friday, February 25, 2005

A Catholic Social Vision from President Bush

I was very excited to read Myron Magnet's piece in OpinionJournal on President Bush's "theory of domestic policies". Magnet, though likely unaware of it, has outlined how the president's compassionate conservatism follows closely to our Catholic social teachings. This should be of particular interest to Catholics for the Democratic Party is full of pro-aborts and is no longer a party for them. Yet, many Catholics think the GOP is the party of the rich and does not care for the little guy.

All Catholics should read this piece. Magnet argues that it is not capitalism (nor the Republican supporters of this system) which is to blame for the state of poverty in America. Instead, it is the liberal policies (which are often endorsed by the USCCB) which were meant to alleviate the plight of the poor. There is evidence of this:

...the overwhelming success of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which became ever clearer during President Bush's first term, utterly exploded the idea that the hard-core poor were not working because of a lack of jobs. Welfare mothers crowded into the work force; the rolls dropped by roughly half. Not only were their children not freezing to death on the streets by the thousands, as even so wise an observer as the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan had predicted they would, but in fact child poverty reached its lowest point ever three years after welfare reform. Lack of opportunity? Hardly.
And Magnet points out why President Bush believes capitalism can be the means to help the poor:

Mr. Bush had seen waves of Mexican immigrants flooding in to take jobs no one previously knew existed--still more evidence that there was no crisis of opportunity--while in the cities, a new wave of immigrant-run greengroceries, nail salons, construction firms, even commercial fish farms in Bronx basements, gave the lie to the failure-of-capitalism theory.
Here are some other highlights:

Implicit in compassionate conservatism was the epochal paradigm shift that is now all but explicit. Taken together, compassionate conservatism's elements added up to a sweeping rejection of liberal orthodoxy about how to help the poor, which a half century's worth of experience had discredited. If you want to help the poor, compassionate conservatives argued, liberate them from dependency through welfare reform; free their communities from criminal anarchy through activist policing; give them the education they need to succeed in a modern economy by holding their schools accountable; and let them enjoy the rewards of work by taxing their modest wages lightly--or not at all.
Think how this affects the common good.

For the worst-off--those hampered by addiction or alcohol or faulty socialization--let the government pay private organizations, especially religious ones, to help. Such people need a change of heart to solve their problems, the president himself deeply believed; and while a clergyman or a therapist might help them, a bureaucrat couldn't.
Think about how subsidiarity is properly applied here.

President Bush entered the White House with no patience for such a view. What he understood was that the War on Poverty--an array of LBJ-era legislation that boosted welfare benefits and established other programs for the poor, including Medicaid--created its own form of depression, as women long dependent on welfare became so convinced of their own inferiority that they could hardly present themselves without trembling at a job interview. And, as a far worse psychological consequence, the sense of victimization and of entitlement to government support that the War on Poverty fostered created a corrosive self-pity and resentment among the children of its beneficiaries, and their children's children. The self-pity led to drink and drugs; the resentment to crime and violence; and both together to a perpetuation of irresponsibility, dysfunction, and failure over the generations. The first-line antidote, in Mr. Bush's view, would be the intervention of a counselor, preferably faith-based.
Think of how the principles of human dignity and solidarity are applied here. And see how the importance of "the first society" (ie the family) is a priority.

It's in this context that we should understand President Bush's campaign for Social Security reform. It is part of the large and coherent world view that has evolved out of compassionate conservatism. What has always made America exceptional is limitless opportunity for everyone, at all levels--the ability to find a job, to advance up the ladder as you prove yourself, and to prosper. The poor especially have flocked to these shores for just this chance, and have proved the promise true. A giant welfare state--whether its clients are the poor, the "lower third of the economy," or a cohort of government-pensioned retirees who almost outnumber the taxpaying workers who support them--hampers the job creation that makes all this opportunity possible. President Bush is determined to keep the dynamism vibrant, and to encourage and empower the poor to take part in it, rather than to suggest they are unequal to the task.
Oswald Sobrino over at Catholic Analysis first hit on this idea of a Catholic social vision from President Bush after the president's addresses last year to the Urban League and the Knights of Columbus. It may be helpful to Catholics to review these two speeches to see more of how the president truly has an authentic Catholic social vision for America.


Anonymous Sheila said...

Excellent post!!!

For a history of how all of this came into being, I recomend "The Tragedy of American Compassion"

5:54 AM  

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