At America’s blog, Vincent Miller has a terrific post up that pretty much captures my own views on Dolan’s letter to Rep. Ryan:
On matters concerning abortion, and now marriage, the bishops are quick to react and don’t shy from direct public confrontation. In 2008, when Nancy Pelosi opined on her understanding of the Church’s teaching on abortion in the patristic period, a sharply worded correction was issued within 48 hours signed by the chairs of the USCCB committees on Pro-Life Activities and Doctrine.
Under Cardinal George, the USCCB waded fully into the weeds of policy interpretation and lobbied heavily against passage of the Senate version of the Affordable Care Act. Experts in the field were skeptical of their legal interpretation. But even as they publically argued against the legislation around the clock and lobbied Rep. Stupak and others to reject a compromise based on an executive order, no public pressure was brought to bear on Catholic Republicans in the Senate, who could have easily provided the votes to include the Stupak amendment in the Senate bill, and voted for cloture to allow Democrats to pass it.
One side always receives loud, pointed, public criticism; the other always gets a free pass.
I think this about sums it up. It’s well and good to point out — as Dolan rightly does — that resolving issues of economic policy almost always call for the exercise of prudential reason. But, as I’ve argued before, there must be some economic policy proposals whose alleged tendency to benefit the poor is so implausible that those who support them bear a heavy burden of justifying their professed belief that the proposals are consistent with the preferential option for the poor. (And here, I mean justified both in the sense of proving that they are not lying when they claim that their primary interest is in helping the poor and of demonstrating that, even if they are not lying about their motives, their beliefs meet some minimum threshold of rationality.)
Ryan’s plan seems to fit the bill for a set of proposals that calls for the application of this heavy burden, if anything does. To cut taxes for the rich and for corporations while effectively eliminating two of the pillars of the post-War social safety net is, on its face, a policy that appears to favor the interests of the rich over those of the poor. The only argument to the contrary appears to be that (1) addressing the national debt is essential to the long-term well-being of the poor and (2) the standard supply-side mantra that the best way to accomplish (1) is by cutting taxes, which will unleash economic energy, creating a rising economic tide that will lift all boats, and reducing the national debt at the same time. Although (1) is probably correct, the real heart of the matter is (2). And there is simply no credible empirical support for the idea that, given the baseline of present levels of taxation in this country, cutting taxes on the rich will benefit the poor in any meaningful sense.
The weak tea that Dolan offers in response to the Ryan plan suggests that, unlike issues of sexual morality, when it comes to economic policy, politicians mouthing the words of Catholic social teaching is enough to satisfy many in the hierarchy, no matter how much the actual details of the proposed economic policies appear to belie claims of fidelity to the principles that lie at the heart of that teaching. As Miller observes, and Dolan’s protestations notwithstanding, that imbalanced approach is hardly likely to make both political parties unhappy.