Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pope and Politics

Pope Francis arrived yesterday on his trip to the United States.  The American press is covering his visit like white on rice -- or on a papal cassock.  

What newspeople most want to know is this:  Is the pope more like a Republican or more like a Democrat? 

The developing consensus seems to be that Francis leans Democrat.

Some snippets from newspapers:

     In one paper we read this:  "The big question for Obama and his advisors is 
     whether the pope's soaring popularity can ever-so-slightly shift the ground on 
     some issues crucial to the White House. . . ."

     In another paper, the U.N. ambassador describes "a nice convergence of 
     the timing" with current administration concerns and says "we hope his moral
     authority will help us advance many of the items that we take to be very high on
     our policy agenda."

     A third paper speculates that, depending on the political issue, the pope "could 
     benefit both the left and the right" but concludes he is more likely to aid Obama's 
     "quest to bend the arc of history."

A Bloomberg commenter explains why he thinks the papal visit is a net plus for Obama in the piece below.  (Not that you have to watch to it.)

Our commentariat is always eager to handicap political horse races, and its members understandably are tired of discussing Donald Trump.  (Who can blame them?)   They're jumping on this new guy, the pope, and sizing him by the standards of American politics, which is nothing like the politics of Argentina, where Francis spent his life before moving to Rome. 

Francis isn't planning to run for the U.S. presidency next year. He almost certainly will not endorse a candidate either.  

What seems to get missed is this: Francis is a RELIGIOUS leader.  If he has to make time for politics, he most likely will spend it on a church issue.

Vatican Politics

Francis supported the election of the previous pope, Benedict XVI, an intellectual man whose personal mien was not as warm and fuzzy as Francis' own but who was very serious about his mission.

What Francis and the college of cardinals saw in Benedict was someone ready to crack heads in the Curia, the Vatican's overlarded, self-dealing administrative wing.

Benedict might have been the right man for the job, but he probably came to it too late in his life.  In a humble and very unpapal move, Benedict resigned so that someone else could take up the task. 

Francis replaced Benedict and shares his agenda.  That is his business job, but his bigger concern is the spiritual lives of his 1.2 billion-member flock.  Happily for Catholics, he appears to have the energy for both.   

So, yes, Francis will do photo ops with Fidel Castro but refer only obliquely to the uncounted numbers of dissidents in Cuban prisons.  He will not go into his views about economic inequality or raise a ruckus in Havana about Castro's $100 million net worth.  

In our country, he will smile with a twinkle in his eye at our politicians and keep his thoughts about Planned Parenthood to himself.  He will talk about taking care of the environment, which to him is not a partisan goal even if our politicians enjoy posturing and sparring over the means to this end.

And if either political party seeks his blessing, it will be frustrated. Francis is in it for souls, not polls.


On the same day that Pope Francis' jet touched down on the East Coast, another world leader arrived in Seattle, not that you would have learned this by following the news. 

That leader is Xi Jinping, the president of China.  In the real world, our dealings with China are far more consequential than those with the Vatican.  Xi is a highly disciplined and careful man moving with deliberate force on many fronts.  China has the world's largest population and perhaps the largest economy as well.

There are many sources of friction in the U.S.-China relationship:  China's widespread hacking of our government records, its military buildup in the Pacific, its dumping of steel at below-market prices, its environmental mess, its monetary policy, its growing alliances with other countries whose leaders we do not admire, and on and on and on.

The pope's trip will include a speech before a joint session of Congress.  Xi will speak at a gala state dinner.  

Let's hope our leaders' infatuation with the Francis will not keep them from meeting with Xi and trying to understand what is going on in his head.   His politics and strategies are important, too.

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