Post-debate cognitive dissonance check: Round I

Ironically, Round II (hopefully coming soon) draws on material from the earlier debate between Obama and Romney. But the second debate – between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – just happened, so it gets chronological precedence.

The subject of this post came up when Martha Raddatz asked Ryan, “Let me ask you quickly, what’s your criteria for intervention?” [key phrases in bold]:

REP. RYAN: In Syria?

MS. RADDATZ: Worldwide.

REP. RYAN: What is in the national interests of the American people.

MS. RADDATZ: How about humanitarian interests?

REP. RYAN: What is in the national security of the American people — it’s got to be in the strategic national interests of our country.

MS. RADDATZ: No humanitarian?

REP. RYAN: Each situation will — will come up with its own set of circumstances. But putting American troops on the ground, that’s got to be within the national security interests of the American people.

Here, we have Ryan saying humanitarian interests are not adequate criteria for foreign intervention. On its own, that is a legitimate position, and I’m not going to directly evaluate its merits – strategic or otherwise.

That said, I would like to contrast what Ryan said above with something else he said, literally moments after the above exchange:

MS. RADDATZ: I want to move on, and I want to return home for these last few questions. This debate is indeed historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time on a stage such as this, and I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And please, this is such an emotional issue for so many —

REP. RYAN: Sure.

MS. RADDATZ: — people in this country. Please talk personally about this if you could. Congressman Ryan.

REP. RYAN: I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.

Ryan tells us that, as a public figure, he cannot disavow the public faith that animates him as  a private figure. That his faith informs everything he does. And that among those things his faith instructs him to do is to take care of the vulnerable.

But which vulnerable? The vulnerable everywhere in the world, or only the vulnerable in America?

The first exchange suggests Ryan believes the latter, which is interesting because I didn’t know Christian concern for the vulnerable was to any degree predicated on citizenship or nationality.

Again, I’m not here to question the wisdom of Ryan’s interventionist (or non-interventionist, as it may be) foreign policy. But the contrast does raise some interesting questions: How would Ryan explain that the power of his faith seemingly reaches its limit at the American border? (That limitation certainly didn’t seem to apply when he voted against family planning funding in US aid abroad.) Do his private beliefs inform only some of the things he chooses to do – rather than than the ‘everything’ he just claimed? Might his private faith inform his public opinion only to the extent to which it is convenient?

Something tells me I won’t be getting any answers.


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