House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, stands with, from left, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., left, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as he speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 1, 2011, after their meeting with President Barack Obama regarding the debt ceiling.
The official stance of the USCCB opposes the cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as proposed by House Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan. The need for Catholicism’s opposition is especially important because of how such cuts have been twined with the requirement upon Congress to raise the debt limit. Regardless of how the debt ceiling is confronted, beneath today’s partisanship in Washington is a much larger issue about social inequality and the role of government in addressing social injustice.
The division between rich and poor in the United States is reaching Third World proportions. Since 1979, the income for U.S. workers in real dollars has stagnated. Meanwhile, wealth has been concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Today, 400 multi-billionaires have more money than the bottom 60 percent of the country’s population. That’s 400 persons with more wealth than 180,000,000 Americans combined. People may debate
there is such inequality of income: but none can deny the
I think it is important for Catholic America to quickly recognize that the unseemly partisan fighting about whether the deficit will be reduced when the rich will loose tax loopholes (most Democrats) or when only spending will be cut (most Republicans) is a surrogate argument about the social fabric of the United States. Is Capitalism in America to be unbridled? Or should the people rely on elected government to limit the power and wealth of the few in the papal call for Social Democracy? I believe the answer to that question transcends partisan politics. Nonetheless, in the real world people have to make strategic choices among imperfect options – call it compromise – in order to move towards a more just society. To escape the laissez-faire Capitalism that brought about the Great Depression in 1929, Americans voted for a New Deal that placed elected government as arbiter between the excesses of the few and the needs of the many. Something like that radical choice is now called for by our society at the end of the Great Recession.
Academics view the current crisis in structural terms. When Capitalism runs out of targets to exploit, e.g. workers or Third World colonies, it begins to enrich the few by bleeding resources from its own population. This is “Late Capitalism” and it historically creates a scapegoat within the national population. The scapegoats are blamed for the shrinking wealth and getting rid of them is supposed to take the country back to previous prosperity. In past world history, scapegoats have been made of unions, leftists, and religious (including Catholics) and racial minorities: literally, anyone who can be categorized as “not fully one of us.” Such trends are painfully present to a union member in Wisconsin or a Latino in Arizona, and we should not pretend that “it can’t happen here.”
What complicates unambiguous Catholic support for Social Democracy over radical right-wing Capitalism is how the Catholic agenda is muddled with anti-Communist, anti-Secularist, and/or anti-Abortion rhetoric. Mussolini, Trujillo, Peron, Marcos and Pinochet are right-wingers that cuckolded some bishops into supporting their systematic undermining of social justice norms and the Gospel’s preferential option for the poor. Sadly, some bishops in the United States today seem to have fallen into the same trap by supporting Republican promises on abortion and same-sex marriage while ignoring the GOP’s recent complicity in social engineering to benefit the super-wealthy.
There is a racial component to the politics of social justice today. A recent report showed that from 2005-2009, Hispanics were the most affected by the Great Recession, losing more than half, that is, 66 percent of all we own. African Americans, who had less to begin with, lost 53 percent of their wealth. But white Americans saw a drop of only 16 percent in their wealth. A Pew research team reported: “Median wealth of whites is now 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, double the already marked disparities that had prevailed in the decades before the recent recession.” Such economic imbalance, combative politics and racial inequality, has been the recipe for revolution in Third World countries, but is has now arrived in America. Catholic America needs to provide a living example of how to resist these temptations to class warfare and racial antagonism.