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Bill O’Reilly and the Insufficiency of Private Charity

May 25, 2011, 11:30 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

When Bill O’Reilly hosted Drs. Steve Schneck and Vince Miller, two signers of the Catholic theologians’ letter to Speaker Boehner before his commencement speech at the Catholic University of America, he made a number of flawed arguments trying to defend the morality of the Ryan budget.

Many of O’Reilly’s points are similar to the arguments Ryan himself made in his letter to Archbishop Dolan released last week–arguments we fact-checked already.

But one of O’Reilly’s claims deserves some special attention given how ubiquitous it is among small-government advocates: the idea that private charity is a sufficient social safety net.

All entitlements must be re-evaluated. There are ways to help the poor that don’t bankrupt us, and Catholics are compelled to help the poor. As you may know, “The Factor” gives millions of dollars to charitable causes. We have set up BillOReilly.com to do that because we believe those who have should help the have-nots.

But as Robert Partham at EthicsDaily.com points out, this idea doesn’t hold up to the facts:

The idea that churches can tackle national poverty, take care of those who are ill, and rebuild communities after natural disasters requires a spoonful of bad moral theology and a cup of dishonesty.

As commendable as O’Reilly’s charitable efforts are, his millions of dollars in charity are a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

Take one example of a program to care for low-income Americans: WIC. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children that feeds almost 9 million people each month. House Republicans proposed cuts of $747.2 million for the current fiscal year. It is simply dishonest to suggest that American charity can replace such a cut.

Another great example is Social Security, a program inspired by the staggering rates of poverty among elderly Americans in the early 20th century. By providing a steady income for all older Americans, the program helped ensure that no senior would be left vulnerable because of uncontrollable factors like lacking surviving family, not living close enough to a private charity, or finding insufficient support when charitable resources dried up. In fact, the program has been one of defining successes of American government–almost singlehandedly spurring a 25 percentage point decline in senior poverty from 1960 to 1995.

It’s callous to assert that cuts to any of these program would be anything but seriously harmful. Using misleading claims about the capacity of private charity to suggest otherwise distorts a debate of tremendous importance.

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