The “Catholic Question” in the Biden/Ryan Debate

The final question posed in last night’s Veep debate was the most skewed, even if moderator Martha Raddatz rationalized it by noting this was the first time two Catholics had faced off in a presidential-ticket contest. Amy Sullivan explains the “missed opportunity” at TNR today:

[A]s the evening drew to a close and Raddatz posed a question designed to allow each man to talk about his Catholicism, she made the tired mistake of assuming that there is just one “Catholic issue”–abortion.

That was a big gift to Paul Ryan, because more than any recent political figure, he has fueled an intensification of the debate in U.S. Catholic circles between those who view the war on abortion and contraception as of an inherently higher order than any others, and those who are horrified by Ryan’s Randian economic and social views (which he is careful to dress up in vestments by constant if shallow allusions to Catholic social teachings), as expressed in his various budget proposals.

Raddatz’ question implicitly called Biden down to the diocesan headquarters for a chewing-out. Yet he managed to come across much better on this question than Ryan, certainly to non-Catholics who appreciated his refusal to impose his views on them, and probably to Catholics who share his refusal to follow the bishops into a kulturkampf on abortion. And Ryan’s teeth-clenched admission that he was submitting to Mitt Romney’s will in accepting the legality of abortions in cases of rape and incest was very telling to all viewers, especially those who didn’t know he is a genuine Todd Akin ultra on everything to do with reproductive rights issues.

So Joe Biden made the best of a bad and unfairly contextualized question last night, and it makes you wonder how Ryan would hold up in a comprehensive examination of what he owes to his church, and what he owes to St. Ayn Rand and the cult of the Wealth Creators.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.