The cool new pope, "Francis" (not his real name), released his first apostolic exhortation this week, and much of it focused on the grotesque excesses of capitalism. Republicans love this pope. As long as they don't have to take what he says seriously.
Peggy Noonan, the leading (shudder) Catholic Republican voice in America, spends her column today practicing her tap dance skills—faintly praising the popularity of this super-popular new leader of her beleaguered church, without coming right out and saying that her beleaguered political party could not be more opposed to the alarmingly leftist rhetoric flowing from Francis' pen. Some relevant portions of the pope's latest statement:
Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape...
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
OCCUPY VATICAN CITY. This sentiment could not be more clear: the leader of the Catholic church explicitly decries "trickle-down" economic theories and inequalities of wealth and income and laissez-faire capitalism—all things held dear by the modern Republican party. How does Peggy Noonan deal with this apparent direct attack on the economic platform of her party? Like so:
All this has been portrayed as an attack on free-market economic thinking, but it struck me more as an attack on mindless selfishness, greed and go-with-the-flow acceptance of the unrightness of the world. It made me think of Charles Dickens. The pope's message in part is: Don't be Scrooge...
I don't think he's saying be a leftist but something more revolutionary and fundamental: Be a saint. Be better, kinder, more serious and loving, and help create systems that reflect good, kind, loving people.
When faced with a seemingly intractable conflict between the positions of her spiritual leader and her political party, Peggy Noonan simply pretends that the conflict does not exist. Neat trick! This is how you deal with the dilemma of swearing fealty to a Holy Man Touched by God: when you agree with what he says, you say he is speaking literally, but when you don't agree with what he says, you say he was speaking metaphorically. You can't expect the moneyed modern Republican Catholic (or the church itself, for that matter) to actually live all that "love the poor" shit. They have portfolios to consider. Get real. If Catholics actually followed everything the Pope said, their history would be littered with religious wars.
"Popes are sometimes geniuses," Peggy writes, "but not economists." Fair enough. Likewise, Republicans are sometimes rhetoricians, but not saints.