Published October 12, 2012
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
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
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
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 casued
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.