Here is an important "political" question for you (I say that in snark mode): When dealing with Catholics in the Republican Party, is their faith only worth mentioning when it is part of (a) references to their strange, culturally speaking, beliefs on issues of moral theology or (b) when they clash with good, progressive Catholics who are on the other side of the political aisle?
I certainly agree that it is fair game to ask GOP Catholics questions about how their faith influences their views on, let's say, the death penalty, immigration and health care. I say that because I think it's important -- for the same doctrinal reasons (see the Pope Francis address to the U.S. Congress) -- to keep asking Catholics in the Democratic Party obvious questions such as abortion, euthanasia and religious liberty. Oh, and the death penalty, as well.
It's a worldview thing, you see. Catholicism is a massive force in the lives of people who actually try to live it out and that would certainly be true when you are talking about the life of a political leader.
This would be true to ask faith questions if one was writing about a relatively young Catholic father who is trying to make a career choice that would almost certainly pull him away from his family more than the political post that he already holds.
Let's say, for example, that this young father is trying to decide whether to become Speaker of the House.
Now, run an online search for the terms "Paul Ryan" and "Catholic" and you will get all kinds of things. This is not surprising since he has already been the GOP's candidate to become vice president. There is quite a bit of information in such a search, including the usual advocacy journalism paranoia about Opus Dei rumors. This New York Times op-ed piece -- "Paul Ryan, Catholic Dissident" -- is especially helpful for our discussion.
All of this brings me to one of those new Washington Post semi-editorial, "reported blogging" pieces that are all the rage these days in the major source in DC beltway land. This piece about Ryan is on a perfectly newsworthy subject, in a features-page kind of way.
The rambling headline puts it this way: "Paul Ryan’s big speaker hangup is reportedly his family. For a male lawmaker, that’s unusual." Here's the set-up material up top:
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has become what a lot of people consider the solution to the Republican Party's potentially very big and very messy problem in the House. Still, Ryan is reluctant to vie for the House speaker job. He has reminded colleagues and reporters that he is a married man with three young children with whom, because of his existing work in D.C., he already spends only weekends. The New York Times reported that in recent years, current Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the man who wants out of the job, spent as many as 200 days a year en route to fundraisers or fundraising somewhere.
For Ryan, it's hard to imagine how the two travel patterns would not conflict.
And that leads readers into this discussion:
More than a few public figures -- particularly lawmakers -- have used the old "resigning to spend more time with my family" excuse for bowing out of some political race or office. Oftentimes, the excuse seems dubious.
And most of Ryan's own House colleagues seemed to have all but dismissed his family life concerns. Look closely at all those stories about which lawmaker has said what to Ryan to convince him to take the job. Not many have bothered to share a thought -- at least in print -- on how one might be speaker and a good father to three young children. Translation: Ryan should be more like them. He should leave the bulk of family responsibilities and relationship-building to his wife or the hired help a rising career can buy.
Right there, at the end, is the news hook in this case. And let me be clear that I think that it is a good one: Is the discussion about Ryan and his family concerns simply a new and revelatory spin on the old questions about professional women and the arguments about whether they can "have it all"?
So, yes, the story's content on day care is relevant to that angle. So are the questions about equal salaries for equal work. Ditto for the material on the alleged stay-at-home dads trend. I certainly think it was wise for the story to discuss the fact that children need solid contact with their fathers, as well as their mothers.
All valid subjects. So what is my question?
Is this story actually about Ryan? If so, how can it possibly address this topic in any meaningful way without mentioning his Catholic faith and how it influences his views on parenting?
Yes, there are workaholic Catholic fathers in Washington, D.C., and everywhere else. There may even be some who claim to be pro-Catechism, doctrinally conservative Catholics.
But if the goal is to discuss the forces pulling at Ryan as he makes this decision, might it have been fair game to ask if his Catholic beliefs are part of that equation?
How could they not be? And then there is this issue, which the Post team was wise to include (I might have even led with it):
Moreover, Ryan is a man who came to his family life with a personal history that, at the very least, has given him real reason to be deliberate. Ryan found his own father, an apparently hard-charging lawyer, dead of a heart attack in his bed when Ryan was just 16. At that point ... his older siblings were away at college. Ryan's mother went back to school. And his grandmother, who lived with the family, had reached the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. Before Ryan even left high school, he experienced the toll of a sudden and early death and a slow, merciless one.
Is it really any wonder Ryan's wife said in an August interview that Ryan's time with his family is "his oxygen?"
Uh, might his Catholic faith also have something to do with the lessons he learned from his past? Just asking.
The bottom line: The word "Catholic" does not appear in this Post story on a topic that is, when you are talking about the mind and heart of an active believer, clearly linked to his faith.
Oh, I should mention that there was this ever so brief, almost content-free mention of Ryan's Catholic faith in the new "Who is Paul Ryan?" piece elsewhere in the Post. Hurrah.