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“Pope Francis Will Not Help Your Political Cause”: Even The Pope Can’t Change The Fundamental Calculus Of Congress

“Pope Francis gets political in remarks at White House,” read the headline at The Hill.

“Pope Francis brings political agenda to Washington,” said Politico.

“Pope Francis wades into U.S. politics,” read The Washington Post.

Seeing all that, you might think that the pontiff had said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, and also, call your representatives and tell them to vote yes on H.R. 2451…”

Meanwhile, countless interest groups are sending out press releases saying the pope agrees with them on their issue of concern (the dumbest I’ve seen has to be the 30-page report from a Democratic group charging that the Koch brothers are “on the wrong side of the Holy Father”). But I have some bad news if you were hoping the pope would aid your particular partisan cause, whatever it is: The pope’s visit is not going to matter much.

I suppose you can’t blame the political press for interpreting the pope’s trip through the lens of politics, since it’s their job to view everything through the lens of politics. And it’s true that the pope is visiting the White House and giving an address before a joint session of Congress while he’s here. But is he really going to change the nature of any of the serious partisan arguments we have?

It’s not too likely, because no matter how popular Francis might be, nobody here is just going to do what he says on any issue just because he’s the pope. It’s strange now to look back at the 1960 campaign and see that people were genuinely concerned that John F. Kennedy would be taking orders from the Vatican instead of doing whatever he thought was best. We’d never accuse a Catholic presidential candidate of that today, less because it would sound intolerant than because it would sound ridiculous. When ordinary Catholics don’t take orders from the pope, why would a Catholic president?

Catholics have a lot of practice at picking the Church edicts they want to obey and those they don’t — and that applies to both liberals and conservatives. The conservatives take all that stuff about helping the poor with a grain of salt, while the liberals have decided to agree to disagree with the Church on matters like same-sex marriage. And most everybody disagrees with the Church on birth control; in this Pew poll, three-quarters of Catholics said the Church should permit contraception, and the overwhelming majority of Catholic women of childbearing age use it.

Of course, this isn’t just about obedience, it’s also about the pope’s ability to add his voice and moral authority to political questions. You could argue that when the pope talks about climate change, he makes concern about it seem like a mainstream position and not the province of lefties and liberals. Which is true as far as it goes, but in the U.S. today, that isn’t that far. In the intensely polarized environment in which we live, even a highly popular religious figure can’t change the fundamental calculus of Congress.

One of our two great parties has committed itself to fight any moves that might address climate change, a commitment that is unlikely to change any time soon. That’s true despite the fact that most of their own constituents believe we ought to do something about it. The dynamics of party politics mean that the Republicans who actually get elected are going to be the ones who are most doctrinaire, on this as on most issues. That means that as long as they control Congress, there will be enough of them to stop any climate legislation, which in turn means that action will only come through the kind of regulatory changes that the Obama administration has instituted. The only thing that will produce meaningful climate legislation is huge Democratic majorities in Congress of the kind they had briefly at the start of Barack Obama’s first term. Might there be a Republican member of Congress somewhere who wishes she could publicly advocate reductions in greenhouse gases, and will finally have the courage to do so now that she can claim Pope Francis as an ally? I suppose it’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it — let alone there being some significant number of Republicans who would join her.

The same is true of other issues: the more something matters to us politically, the less the pope is able to change anyone’s mind here in the United States, whether he’s talking about abortion or refugees or tax policy.

Even if some conservative media outlets are now going after Francis like he was Hillary Clinton because of what he’s said about climate and capitalism, they needn’t worry so much. While everyone is parsing the pope’s words to see if he supports their position on something or other — he said he’s an immigrant, so he must be criticizing Donald Trump! He said we need religious liberty, so he must be backing Kim Davis in Kentucky! — what will come out of this visit is a lot of selfies, a lot of media puff pieces, and probably a jump in the pope’s popularity. But politically, everything will stay just the same.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, September 24, 2015

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Partisan Politics, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“To The Sinners In Congress”: Pope Francis isn’t A Liberal. He’s Something More Radical: A Christian Humanist

Pope Francis is causing quite the stir these days.

On Tuesday he will make his first trip to the United States, where he’ll preach the existential urgency of climate change and the moral imperative of economic inequality to a Republican Congress that would probably prefer he talk about abortion and marriage. Conservatives worldwide are upset that Francis is allowing priests to absolve women who repent for an abortion and has “vandalized” marriage by making it easier for Catholics to get their marriages annulled.

In July, Gallup reported that the pope’s favorability among American self-described conservative Catholics had dropped to 45 percent, from 72 percent a year earlier. “This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and linking climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality,” Gallup said, noting that these are “all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs.”

But just because some conservatives are upset with Pope Francis, that doesn’t mean that he’s a liberal. He isn’t, really, politically or religiously.

He is a reformer, and he is shaking things up in a church that had experienced theological and institutional continuity for 35 years under Pope John Paul II, elected in 1978, and Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s doctrinal right hand from 1982 until his own elevation to supreme pontiff in 2005.

Francis boldly promotes some policies that make conservatives uncomfortable. But the Pope Francis revolution is probably best described as humanist — and that makes it a much bigger challenge to Catholics in the West, both conservative and liberal.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Francis is a secular humanist, or capital-h Humanist, by any means. Instead, let’s call him a Christian humanist, defining that as one who cares about human beings more than ecclesiastical considerations.

That might sound like secular balderdash, but it’s actually a phrase coined by Pope Benedict. “Christian humanism,” he wrote in the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), “enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open toward our brothers and sisters and toward an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” Benedict explicitly borrowed the idea from Pope Paul VI.

Pope Francis has taken the idea of Christian humanism and put it into practice, with a big smile. He is concerned with the welfare of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly, but he is much more concerned with what the Catholic Church calls the “mystical body of Christ” — that is, the people who make up the Christian church.

There are plenty of examples.

His groundbreaking encyclical on climate change, Laudato Sí (“Praise Be to You”), for one, is a stern rebuke to humanity — that includes industrialist polluters, but also voracious consumers and even environmentalists — for turning the Earth into “an immense pile of filth.” But he intrinsically pairs ecology and social justice, arguing that efforts to save the planet “must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Then there’s the pope’s modification of church law to make it easier to get broken marriages annulled, which, Vatican Radio says, is rooted in the core principle of “salus animarum — the salvation of souls.” Catholics whose marriages fail — especially in poorer countries, where annulments are expensive and hard to come by — should be shown mercy and love, encouraged and allowed to fully participate in the sacramental life of the church, whenever possible.

But probably the most illuminating example — the one that shows Francis putting the needs of humanity firmly above the parochial concerns of the church — has to do with the Christian character of Europe.

Pope Benedict, before he retired, fought tooth and nail to keep Europe anchored in Christianity. In 2007, after the European Parliament rejected including references to God and Christianity in the European Constitution, Benedict chastised European lawmakers. How can EU governments “exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify?” Benedict asked. “Does not this unique form of apostasy of itself, even before God, lead [Europe] to doubt its very identity?”

Pope Francis has not only ignored the issue, he has pleaded with Catholics — and, in fact, all Europeans — to personally house the masses of mostly Muslim migrants seeking refuge in the EU.

The surge of humanity from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya will make Europe more Muslim and less Christian, as some European politicians have noted caustically. But the preeminent Christian leader in Europe is begging Europeans to open their doors, anyway. And in the case of Catholic religious orders, he is more than pleading: He is ordering them to utilize their unused convent and monastery rooms to house refugees, unless they want to start paying property taxes. The Holy See has already chosen two families of migrants to stay in the Vatican, the pope said, and they are welcome to remain “as long as the Lord wants.”

If you think that the church focusing on migrants isn’t novel, you wouldn’t be wrong. Pope Benedict said it was “impossible to remain silent” on the issue of refugee camps in 2008 (years before the refugee camps were in Europe). And, back in 1985, John Paul II said the fact that a migrant “is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him of membership to the human family.” In the U.S., the Catholic Church has long advocated for the rights of immigrants — though the big waves of immigrants in the 20th century were largely Catholic.

But that’s the point of the Pope Francis revolution — it’s not really about new ideas, it’s about what the Catholic Church truly focuses on and where it leads by example. Francis isn’t just visiting the sinners in the U.S. Congress, he’s also visiting the sinners in prison, as well as children, hard laborers, refugees, and other demographics the Bible says that Jesus paid attention to.

Ostentatiously living a more humble papacy, determinedly mingling with the disenfranchised and downtrodden, radically (for the Catholic Church) putting the laity at the center of church solicitude: This is the change Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. It is making lots of people uncomfortable. Honestly, any Catholic that doesn’t feel challenged by Francis’ subversive papacy probably isn’t paying enough attention.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, calls Francis “an equal opportunity disturber,” noting that “when we listen to some things he says, we smile; as we listen to other things he says, we bristle.” But, he added, “Jesus was like that, remember?”

It’s pretty clear Pope Francis does.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Catholic Church, Christianity, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ebola And America’s Childish Narcissism”: We, As A Country, Have Never Been Good At Keeping Things In Perspective

I don’t start many columns like this, but kudos to Fox News and specifically host Shepard Smith for decimating this Ebola hysteria the other day. David Ignatius of The Washington Post picked up on Smith’s sentiment with an equally solid column. Ignatius quoted Smith thus: “Today, given what we know, you should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. I promise. Unless a medical professional has contacted you personally and told you of some sort of possible exposure, fear not. Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online.”

I’ll go them one better. It’s moments like this one that bring out the absolute worst in the media, some political figures, and, it must be said, a hell of a lot of regular people, too—all of which is to say, the country. America is a narcissistic and inward-looking society at the best of the times. At the worst of times, it’s something even worse; a country with utterly no understanding of the pain and struggle and banal, recurrent death that the rest of the world lives with on a daily basis. So not only should we not panic, but beyond that, instead of turning ever-more inward, this Ebola moment should be precisely the time when we pause and look around the globe and realize how insignificant (though yes of course tragic on their own terms) three deaths are.

In the amount of time it probably took you to read the above two paragraphs, two African children died of malaria. That’s one every 30 seconds, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every grinding year. And this constitutes a bit of an improvement over 10 or 20 years ago. Many of these children are under five years old. Such an abattoir would never be permitted to continue in the United States, or indeed the developed (and white) world. It would be very wrong of course to say the world does nothing about it. Many amazing people devote their lives to changing this, but somehow it does not change enough, and in recent years the malaria situation has been made even worse by what is to me the single most despicable human activity I’ve ever heard of in my life this side of the gas chambers—the sale of fake anti-malarial drugs for profit.

Want to worry about children? Read the speech given Thursday in the United Arab Emirates by Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Half of the world’s millions of refugees are children, and they live lives of wretched, numbing upheaval and violence. Guterres: “We know that refugee children are at increased risk of child labor and recruitment, and more vulnerable to violence in their homes, communities, or schools, including sexual and gender-based violence. This is one of the reasons, along with financial difficulties, why more and more refugee parents agree to marry off their daughters as children.”

Queen Raina of Jordan also spoke, calling the refugee crisis in Syria “a slap in the face of humanity.” And, she might well have added, of her country, and of Lebanon, both of which have taken in millions of Syrians, placing burdens on those countries’ infrastructures that Americans couldn’t begin to imagine. Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population is equal to 25 percent of its native population. Could you imagine the United States taking in a like number of Latin American refugees? That would be 75 million people! Our right wing went absolutely ballistic this past summer over 60,000 kids, who came here for reasons we helped create. There is all this churning violence out there of which probably 90 percent of Americans are barely aware. In so much of the world, death and violence are just normal parts of life. And to the response “tough, that’s their problem,” there are at least three good retorts.

The first is that we shouldn’t be so holier than thou, because it wasn’t really that long ago in historical terms that death and violence were normal parts of American life as well. This was an extremely dark and brutal (and insalubrious) country well into the 20th century. It was only really after World War II, after the spread of the general prosperity, that violent death and disease were checked in most of the United States. Vast pockets of both continued to exist well after that—in Appalachia and the inner cities, for example—and some exist still. So our “right” to feel smug about these kinds of things is rather new.

Second, we can’t fail to acknowledge that we played a role in making some of this violence happen. It’s unquestionably true with respect to the countries of Central America whence the border-crisis kids were arriving in June. It’s also undeniably the case in Iraq, where our war created millions of refugees and is still doing so (1.2 million so far this year alone, according to the UNHCR). Where our culpability isn’t that direct—Egypt, say, or Gaza—there are regimes imposing violence on helpless people that obviously could not do so without American billions.

Third, well, I happen to be an American, but I recognize, and you should too, that that’s as accidental a reality as anything could possibly be. So I lucked out in the old ovarian lottery, and the little zygote that became me happened to have been formed inside a particular set of borders. I’ve never understood why that should free me of the obligation to worry about those who didn’t have my luck. All the more reason to, I’d have thought.

All societies are like ours to some extent. Lord knows, many are more chauvinistic. But here’s where I think we are unique: in our continued capacity to be shocked that anything terrible could happen to us. This has everything to do with the narrative we are fed and, in a continuous loop through the media (not just news media, but all media, Hollywood and the rest), feed and re-feed to ourselves. We are exceptional. These things don’t happen here. I remember thinking not long after September 11: Why was everyone so shocked? True, the audacity of it was shocking, so there’s that. But they’d tried to do it before to the World Trade Center, and anyway, nearly everyone else in the world lives with this kind of thing, albeit on a less operatic scale. I was surprised only that it took them that long to deliver a blow like that to our shores.

But the point now is that nothing is on our shores. Shepard Smith is right. So it isn’t happening to us, and yet we’re acting like it is, and while we’re not exactly forgetting the people it actually is happening to, we are certainly diminishing their far worse suffering.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 18, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Ebola, Media | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lazy, Incompetent And Irresponsible”: The House GOP’s Underwhelming Response To A Crisis

Three weeks ago, President Obama presented a pretty credible solution to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. The White House requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding that would build detention centers, add immigration judges, and beef up border security, all while expediting deportations to discourage an additional influx.

A week later, asked if his chamber would approve Obama’s plan, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters, “I would certainly hope so,” though he cautioned against optimism.

My Grand Unified Theory of Boehner has long held that the Speaker’s political instincts are fairly sound, but he invariably has to take a less reasonable course because his radicalized caucus will tolerate nothing else. In the case of the border crisis, Boehner wanted to approve Obama’s proposed solution, but House Republicans ruled out the possibility, and with two days remaining before Congress takes a five-week break, they finally came up with a counter-offer.

Republicans hope to pass $659 million in supplemental spending for the border crisis before leaving for the August recess, Speaker John A. Boehner said after a GOP conference meeting Tuesday.

The Ohio Republican said the House will “attempt to move this bill” on Thursday and that he anticipated the measure would have “sufficient support,” but that there was still “a little more work to do to” to shore up the votes.

This is not a bill anyone should take pride in. After complaining literally for months about this crisis, the fact that this proposal is the best the House GOP could come up with is pretty powerful evidence to bolster the post-policy thesis.

To address the crisis, the White House wants to spend nearly $4 billion, while Senate Democrats are writing a related package that would spend nearly $3 billion. House Republicans, meanwhile, want to spend $659 million – about a fifth of the original total eyed by the Obama administration – two-thirds of which would go to border security.

Apparently, no one told the GOP lawmakers that the current crisis doesn’t really have anything to do with border security. That, or lawmakers were told, but they didn’t care.

Making matters just a little more absurd, the House bill will run through Sept. 30. In other words, it’s a bill to tackle the problem for the next two months, at which point Congress would have to start over.

Why can’t the House GOP pass a real legislative response to the crisis they claim to take seriously? It gets back to something we talked about last week.

There is a group of far-right lawmakers in the House who don’t want to approve anything, in part because they don’t want to address the problem and in part because if the lower chamber does pass a bill, it might lead to a compromise with the Senate,

And House Republicans really don’t like compromises.

It led Boehner to pursue a bizarre strategy, in which he demanded that the White House urge House Democrats to support a Republican bill, since the Speaker couldn’t round up enough GOP support on his own. Dems, not surprisingly, balked.

Which in turn led Republicans to create an even worse proposal, intended to please far-right members, who wouldn’t support anything else.

So what happens now? The House will try to pass this weak bill before leaving town. As best as I can tell, there are no reliable headcounts yet, and it remains a distinct possibility that the GOP-led chamber will defeat the GOP-written bill.

If, however, the House manages to pass its measure, it would need support from the Senate and White House, which would have to decide fairly quickly whether the bill is better or worse than nothing. In theory, the Senate would approve its alternative and the two chambers would work on a possible compromise, but with lawmakers ready to leave town in a couple of days for a month off, there simply isn’t time.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 29, 2014

July 30, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, Immigration Reform, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rick Perry’s Operation Strong Safety”: Creating A Talking Point For The Campaign Trail, Not Searching For A Practical Solution

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) recently appeared on Fox News, stressing his support for deploying National Guard troops to address the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border. Brit Hume asked the governor to explain what the Guard would actually do. Perry struggled to explain.

Hume reminded Perry, “[I]f these children who’ve undergone these harrowing journeys, to escape the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won’t shoot them and can’t arrest them?”

At this point, Perry changed the subject.

But that was last week. This week, the Republican governor and likely presidential candidate is moving forward with his idea, whether he can explain its merits or not.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday requested the immediate deployment of as many as 1,000 service members to assist with security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The soldiers, from both the Texas National Guard and State Guard, will mobilize throughout the next 30 days to carry out “Operation Strong Safety” along the border region.

“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault,” Perry said Monday during a press conference.

First, there’s very little to suggest Texans are “under assault.” Second, “Operation Strong Safety” is an unintentionally amusing phrase. As Paul Waldman joked, “ ‘Operation Strong Safety’? Why not just go ahead and call it Operation America Macho TestosteReagan?”

But even putting that aside, at its core, the most meaningful concern here is that Perry’s solution doesn’t match the problem.

The obvious question in response to the announcement from the governor’s office is simple: what, exactly, does Perry expect the Guard to do?

Part of the rationale, he said yesterday, was to deter others from entering the United States illegally. Again, this is predicated on a mistaken assumption about the nature of the crisis itself. These unaccompanied children are not sneaking into the country – on the contrary, they’re walking up to law-enforcement officials and gladly turning themselves in.

There is no deterrent effect in having more law-enforcement personnel because the kids aren’t afraid of getting caught. They fully expect to be taken into custody; they want to be taken into custody. Does Perry not understand these details? If not, why not?

What’s more, Greg Sargent recently talked to the head of the National Guard under the Bush/Cheney administration, who offered a valuable perspective.

[I]n an interview today, the head of the National Guard under George W. Bush said he had not yet heard a clear rationale for sending in the Guard and suggested it might not be the appropriate response to the problems at the core of the current crisis, though he did say he could envision the Guard playing some sort of part in a broader solution.

“Until mission requirements are clearly defined, it can’t be determined whether this is an appropriate use of the Guard in this particular case,” H. Steven Blum, who was the Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2003 to 2009 and has been a career military man for decades, told me. “There may be many other organizations that might more appropriately be called upon. If you’re talking about search and rescue, maintaining the rule of law or restoring conditions back to normal after a natural disaster or a catastrophe, the Guard is superbly suited to that. I’m not so sure that what we’re dealing with in scope and causation right now would make it the ideal choice.”

That still seems to be an exceedingly polite way of saying, “Republican demands don’t seem to make any sense.”

Of course, it’s possible Perry’s decision is less about making sense and more about presidential posturing in advance of a national campaign. Immigration was an albatross for the Texas governor in 2012 – remember the “have a heart” problem? – and the Republican is no doubt eager to chart a different course in advance of 2016. Dispatching the National Guard, in this sense, is about looking “tough” and creating a talking point for the campaign trail, not searching for a practical solution.

It led Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) to say in a statement, “Once again, Texas taxpayers are being forced to pay for Governor Perry’s grandiose political ambitions. It is a costly misuse of our highly skilled National Guard to demand its service as a mere referral agent for children seeking refuge from abuse. Doing its job effectively, our Border Patrol does not need interference from either Governor Perry or vigilantes. We deserve Texas tough, but today we get only Texas Governor weak – weak on any bipartisan solutions, weak on any meaningful action.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 22, 2014

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Humanitarian Crisis, Rick Perry | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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