America magazine has posted the text of new interviews with our two Catholic vice presidential candidates, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan. It’s interesting and helpful. It’s also brief, which probably makes it too easy to try to criticize either candidate for what they say or don’t say in answers of a few sentences to big and wide-ranging questions.
But the headline to the whole thing, to my mind, is this: Neither candidate reports, when asked, experiencing any conflict whatsoever between his political life and his Catholic faith. (See the final question of both interviews.) I confess to being flabbergasted.
Joe Biden has never felt conflicted, in the least, throughout a long political career that has consistently defended and supported legal abortion? He didn’t feel conflict sitting in that room in those moments of decision-making about carrying out the assassination of Osama bin Laden? He hasn’t occasionally even wondered about the wisdom of the HHS contraception mandates that his boss’s administration has championed?
Paul Ryan didn’t have any hesitations as he worked out and formally offered a federal budget proposal that includes steep cuts to food stamps, healthcare for children and the disabled, and basic social programs? There has never been a single peep of protest from his Catholic heart and mind as he has gone about championing the cold individualism of Ayn Rand?
I’m not saying I expect either man to suddenly burst into tears and cry out some loud mea culpas. They’re trying to win an election, after all. But it would have been a simple affirmation of their humanity to hear Biden say, “Yeah, I have struggled mightily with this abortion issue, because after all we’re talking about millions of abortions every year here, and that’s a lot of fetuses that my church says deserve the protection of law, but in the end, I’ve just had to follow my conscience and allow women to make up their own minds”; or to hear Ryan say, “When the U.S. bishops conference and so many prominent ethicists and theologians and religious sisters and other leaders in the church all came down so strongly against my budget proposal, it did cause me to think again about the sort of budget I’d put together, and I do regret that if passed it might make life a little harder for some folks, but I know in the end that it’s just too important that we get this deficit thing straightened out, for the sake of all of us.”
Is that what it takes to run for such high office — a completely unquestioning self-confidence in one’s every conviction and idea, able to withstand even the fundamental opposition of the teachings and witness of the church which has supposedly formed the bedrock of one’s faith and moral convictions throughout one’s entire life?
Maybe I’m just envious. The older I get, the more riddled with second-guessing self-doubt I become! The more I experience life, the more I realize there are so many different ways to look at the events, ideas, and problems that fill it that I just have to be missing something in most cases.