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US ELECTIONS/ Paul Ryan on poverty & civil society

Many have noted that the poor have often been left out from the presidential campaign. KIM DANIELS comments on the speech Paul Ryan delivered in Cleveland, and the focus given to the poor

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Catholics of all political stripes should welcome the fact that Paul Ryan proudly affirms that his Catholic faith affects his positions on public issues -- and not just social issues, but economic issues as well. Agree or disagree with the particulars, Ryan is moving past the tired paradigm that pits conservative and liberal Catholics against each other. He's making an effort to bring the Catholic faith to bear across a range of public issues, and that enriches public life.

Yesterday (October, 24) Ryan gave a significant speech on the importance of civil society in the fight against poverty. Many have noted that while the middle class has figured prominently in the presidential campaign, the poor have often been left out. As Melinda Hennebarger asks, "When was the last time you heard any presidential candidate speak seriously, in any kind of sustained way, about the one in five American kids growing up in circumstances that ought to make us all ashamed? ... No one thinks talking about poverty is a smart political move; thus the bipartisan silence."

Ryan broke that silence yesterday in Cleveland: “Too many children, especially African-American and Hispanic children, are sent into mediocre schools and expected to perform with excellence. African-American and Hispanic children make up only 38 percent of the nation’s overall students, but they are 69 percent of the students in schools identified as lowest performing.

Think about that for a second: at the height of a contentious, tight national race, a candidate spoke about the least among us -- and not with a sound bite or photo op, but with sustained attention in a thoughtful speech that drew on much from Catholic tradition. Ryan recognized that "in this war on poverty, poverty is winning" -- and then laid out steps towards changing that.

What is that approach? While admitting that Republicans don't always do a good job speaking to these issues, Ryan rejected as a straw man the idea that the GOP ticket believes "everybody should just fend for themselves." Instead he laid out a vision rooted in Catholic ideas about the importance of community, civil society, and the need to strike a balance between government and private action, “allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do. There’s a vast middle ground between the government and the individual. Our families and our neighborhoods, the groups we join and our places of worship – this is where we live our lives. They shape our character, give our lives direction, and help make us a self-governing people.”