At the Vice Presidential debate, Paul Ryan tried to use Romney’s charitable donations as a defense against the 47% comments Romney made. This defense isn’t completely isolated to this debate. It has made its way around right-wing websites. Steve Doocy and Karl Rove even tried to use this as a point of attack. It is true that Mitt Romney has given away 30% of his (before tax) income. That is more than the abysmal single digits of either vice-presidential candidates. It is even more than Obama’s nearly 15%. But is that really giving more to charity? It’s times like this that Democrats need to find religion.
Besides Biden’s worrisome move towards Austrian economics, here is the piece of the VP debate that stood out for me. It came when Biden was attacking both Ryan and Romney. His assertion that they don’t care about the poor and, in fact, blame them for the poor economy. The Part that interests me was Paul Ryan’s defense against this attack. (transcript courtesy of NPR)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30% of the American people are takers. These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now who are, quote, not paying any taxes.
REP. RYAN: This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, more than the two of us combined. Mitt Romney’s a good man. He cares about a hundred percent of Americans in this country.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
A pretty standard interpretation, and the one I learned in Catechism, was that it is not size or amount that we offer, but the amount of the personal sacrifice that makes one righteous. In Luke’s version he comments on the offering of the wealthy that they “made offerings from their surplus wealth”. In other words, their donation didn’t represent any real sacrifice on their part.
Democrats should make this argument the next time someone brings up the difference in charitable giving between Romney and Obama. It is hard to compare the amount of sacrifice(even using percentages) when one makes 20 times as much as the other. Is 2 million really a noble sacrifice when one still brings home 9 or 10 million?
This isn’t a call for higher taxes, just a critique of a shaky defense when one is being pummeled for not demonstrating a concern for the poor. Democrats can continue their attack on Romney’s despite his charitable giving. Democrats can compare charity with sacrifice. This can be done with secular language as well as religious – as The Widow’s tale demonstrates.
The connection between charity and sacrifice is not unusual in Catholic Social doctrine. Some of the most powerful homily’s I’ve heard have been calls for Charity. One was a personal story a priest relayed. When he was in New York he once ordered a sandwich from a deli. The deli had mistakenly put mustard on it which he hated. He was already out of the shop and headed for the subway before he realized it after taking a bite. Instead of throwing away the sandwich he decided to give it to a homeless person by the subway entrance. At first he felt good about literally “feeding the hungry”. That was until he saw what happened next. The homeless person stood up, walked a few yards to another homeless person, tore the sandwich in two, and gave the other half to his friend. The priest felt humbled. Here he was feeling good for giving a sandwich that he was going to throw away anyway, and yet this homeless man just gave away what might end up being his last meal of the day. One donation was a whole sandwich and the other was only half a sandwich, but which was a greater sacrifice?
If Mitt Romney feels no pain or sacrifice in what he gives, how does that differ from the Priest’s sandwich that he wasn’t going to eat? I’m not saying that there aren’t admirable things one can say about someone who donates a lot to charity. However, when one make a lot of money for doing nothing at the same time one is trying to destroy retirement and healthcare for the poor? Well, hiding behind your charitable donations is no defense.