WASHINGTON – Inherited wealth would be only a moderate problem for Republican John Ellis Bush if he runs for president. The Bush family ranks somewhere in the middle of the ranks of monied White House aspirants.
However, Jeb Bush, as he is called, complicated things on this score when he spoke about the federal minimum wage during stops in South Carolina a few days ago. He is against it, as are most conservatives around the country.
While Bush’s comments are sure to warm the pocketbooks of right-wing Republicans who control the presidential primaries, this issue rubs particularly raw with some voters because Bush is a Catholic, a convert of 20 years.
The Associated Press reported Bush said he can accept the present federal minimum wage, last raised in 2009, of $7.25 an hour, but opposes raising it.
“State minimum wages are fine,” Bush said, according to the AP. The wage, he said, should be left to the states and the influences of the marketplace. As governor of Florida, Bush opposed a 2004 referendum approved by voters that tied the wage to inflation.
In his South Carolina appearances, Bush implied that the minimum wage actually hurts employment opportunities for the poor.
Unfortunately for Bush, these comments came as the New York Times published a lengthy story about how Bush is increasingly influenced by his Catholic faith. “It’s made me a better person,” he told the Times.
There is nothing in the catechism about the minimum wage. It is surely not an article of faith. Yet, the concept of government intervention on behalf of working men and women has been deeply embroidered into the literature and actions of the Catholic Church for the last 114 years.
In reaction to the growth of Marxism in Europe, Pope Leo XIII published the papal encyclical “Of New Things” in 1891 in which he supported a living wage, and workers’ rights to organize into labor unions.
Leo’s message swept through Catholic Western Europe. In America, it particularly influenced the struggling dioceses of Chicago, Cleveland and Buffalo, where bishops fostered the creation of diocesan labor colleges to support unions and fair wages.
In 1991, Pope John Paul II penned his own letter on economics, “Our 100th Year,” that took Leo’s message further, stressing Christianity’s “preferential option for the poor.” This is a fancy phrase calling for private and public intervention for the economic welfare of the poor and powerless.
John Paul also warned that the economic boom of the 1990s was occurring “over the heads” of ordinary people, meaning the poor would be left out.
Now it is Pope Francis who is warning about the spiritual and political dangers of the widening disparity of incomes. Of all the varied comments Francis has made about the church and society, his forebodings about rich and poor are his most consistent.
According to the New Republic, Francis condemned “the economics of exclusion” in remarks before U.N. officials last May. Francis called for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state.” He likened the economic “throw away culture” to the “culture of death” that allows abortion.
All this makes tough sledding in swing states like Ohio and Florida for Bush, interested in becoming the second Catholic president. It was for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also a Catholic, as the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012. Ryan was attacked by Catholics for wanting to slash spending for social welfare.
In heavily Democratic New York State, the issue is a non-starter. The state minimum wage is $8.75, and will rise to $9 next year. Bush’s exploratory committee did not respond to a request for comment.