Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope in America, Part II

Obama's Pope

President Obama along with his family were on the tarmac to greet the Pope as he descended from his private plane at Andrews Air Force Base.  Vice-President Biden and his wife were also on hand, as were a handpicked number of other dignitaries.   For many in the conservative media this was further proof that Pope Francis is Obama's Pope.

Fox and other conservative outlets have been vexed by the Holy Father, who unlike his predecessor, who most persons have quickly forgotten, is a social advocate determined to pick up where Pope John Paul II had left off before being interrupted by Pope Benedict. 

It's not like Benedict was a bad guy, although many in the media thought he was.  He was just more a bureaucrat, concerned with the day-to-day affairs of the Vatican rather than public outreach.  This was perfect as far as the conservatives were concerned, as Benedict for the most part stayed home  (mostly for health reasons), except for a brief visit to the US at the tail end of President's Bush's tenure.  Pope Benedict was similarly greeted by President Bush at Andrews Air Force Base.

The protocol was pretty much the same for both Presidents in treating the Pope to a day at the White House before he went on to tour other cities.  But, the photo ops of Obama, his family and his dog with Pope Francis are getting much more airplay.  Of course, it doesn't hurt when you are much more photogenic than your predecessor, which can be said of both the Pope and the Obama family.

Even the President's dog was blessed

However, many in the conservative media feel the Pope and Obama are in cahoots in creating a new socialist world order.  Case in point, the role of the Vatican in brokering renewed diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.  It doesn't matter that these negotiations go back to Pope John Paul II, who tried to broker a similar deal at the tail end of the Clinton administration, after his visit to Cuba in 1998.

The basic problem with all these conspiracy theories is that they tend to get confused with each other.  The long running narrative of Obama as a "closet Muslim" is pretty much dashed if you put him in bed with the Vatican in renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba.   For Mike Huckabee, it is part of a charade by the President to disguise his real identity, asserting again on Fox News that Obama is "pretending" to be a Christian.  None of these conservative talking heads will go so far as to say the Pope is pretending to be a Christian, but they criticize and attack him on pretty much the same lines, with Rush Limbaugh going so far as to call the Pope a Marxist.  

If the Pope is a Marxist then so was Jesus, as he was more concerned with the oppressed than he was the Roman oligarchy, which went out of its way to persecute him.  Of course, Jesus was much more the radical than is the current Pope, who hasn't wavered very much from the Catholic doctrine.  From a historical point of view, Jesus' life remains shrouded in mystery, pieced together from a scant amount of primary sources, although many would like to believe the red-lettered sections of the New Testament are direct quotes.  Even if we attribute these quotes to Jesus, we find a very socialist-minded saint who devoted his energies to the poor.  It is very clear that Pope Francis has absorbed the teachings of the New Testament, calling for a greater commitment by countries for the plight of the poor in this world.

It is hard to say that Obama has been that deeply committed to the poor during his tenure.  In his efforts to rebuild the American economy after the 2008 collapse, he catered more to industry than he has the working class, much less the poor.  Obama and Pope Francis are pretty far apart on this issue.  However, it does seem that the President has made a greater commitment in the last two years of his administration in terms of alleviating the income disparity that has reach an absurd gap, promoting a higher minimum wage and greater benefits to workers.

I'm not sure who is leading who in this regard, or if anyone is leading anyone.  Obama seems more concerned with his own legacy, trying to reaffirm the campaign promises he made in 2008, before being sidetracked with the intractable nature of our government, in which power is relatively evenly divided by conflicting political ideologies.  He chose to take the pragmatic route, much to the chagrin of Democratic liberals, who thought he had sold out to conservatives as Bill Clinton did.  With the end of his tenure in sight, Obama is hoping to leave a much more positive legacy than did his previous two predecessors.

Of course, it benefits President Obama greatly to have this meeting with Pope Francis for all to see.  The Pope is the most-liked leader in the world and most everyone wants to have a chance to bask in his papal light.  However, this was just one of several high level meetings Obama had this week, which included a visit from the Chinese President and a rare meeting with Vladimir Putin at the United Nations assembly, which the Pope also attended.  It can be argued that each of these meetings is just as important, especially given our frayed relations with China and Russia.

The Pope is no more Obama's Pope than he is Castro's Pope or any other world leader's Pope.  He is his own man and for the most part chooses to give his time to the afflicted, such as skipping a Congressional lunch to eat with the homeless.  He similarly took time out from his busy New York schedule to eat with the homeless at the Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, and plans to visit a high-security prison in Philadelphia.  As it turns out, Obama did the same for an episode of HBO's Vice.  He didn't wash their feet, but he did pay the inmates respect.

If conservatives are vexed by the Pope, it is because they don't understand where his heart lays.  They are too busy promoting their own selfish interests to comprehend this message penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883,

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your distant shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, to me:  

I lift my lap beside the golden door. 

Words that echo those in the New Testament, and obviously words that hold great meaning to the Pope.  Maybe Obama is listening too, as he has raised the number of refugees to be taken in by the United States to 100,000 by 2017.  A small dent in the current refugee crisis, but at least a willingness to deal with the dispossessed the United States helped create with its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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