As if it isn’t bad enough that he’s cruising around Washington DC in a Fiat and eating lunch with the poor, reminding everyone in America what Christianity is supposed to look like, Pope Francis spoke on Capitol Hill this morning, calling on America to care for the needy, act on climate change, help immigrants rather than hinder them, and to disavow the selfish heart of capitalism.
To put that another way: Pope Francis took Republicans to school and explained to them what it actually means to be a Christian, a title that remains elusive to most American conservatives, despite their constant efforts to grandstand on their pious “Christian values.”
Many conservatives have been critical of Pope Francis, because come on… what does he know about being a Christian, right? But on Thursday, Fox News pundit Howard Kurtz decided to try and approach the situation from a different angle, in an op-ed he wrote for Fox’s website: sure, Pope Francis is critical of Republicans, but surely he’s equally critical of Democrats.
Kurtz points out that Pope Francis is opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and contraceptives, while criticizing media outlets like Newsweek and CNN for painting the picture that the Pontiff’s positions are more troublesome for Republicans than Democrats. In Kurtz’ view, Pope Francis is, yes, critical of Republican views, but somehow also equally opposed to the views of Democrats. There’s just one problem with that assertion: it isn’t true.
Pope Francis does hold a number of views that most liberals disagree with him on, but they aren’t issues he’s prioritizing. In fact, they’re issues he’s only rarely mentioned, in passing. The list of issues Pope Francis is truly devoted to — climate change, poverty, etc. — are issues American progressives have been fighting to prioritize for decades.
All of those issues Pope Francis spoke about extensively this morning are textbook examples of the causes liberals champion. Helping the poor, providing health care to the needy, and asking America’s billionaires to pay more in taxes so we can care for more people. Changing our mindset on immigration and dismissing greed from capitalism. Saving the Earth — literally God’s creation — and everyone on it from a slow, inevitable extinction at the hands of climate change.
Conservatives live by a code of absolutes. You’re either with us, all-in, or you’re against us, all-out. To many conservatives, Pope Francis is a radical left-wing Marxist because he doesn’t agree with them on, or at least doesn’t stay neutral about, these issues. They can’t separately process positives and negatives, not the way most liberals can.
I voted for Barack Obama twice, and I’m proud to say that. But I don’t consider anything in absolutes, so while I approve of Obama’s job of recovering the economy, I recognize the huge income inequality gap he’s created, and I disapprove of it. I approve of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and the tremendous benefits the American people have gained from it, but I disapprove of his failure to implement a public option and move America closer to the proper single-payer health care system we’re long overdue to implement.
A liberal will read that paragraph and say “that makes sense… no one is perfect.” A conservative will read that paragraph and say “Ha! Look! Even liberals hate Obama!” And that’s my point. I didn’t approve of Ronald Reagan, and I wouldn’t have voted for him if I were old enough to vote when he was running, but I’ll still admit that some of his policies and ideas were good, most notably his amnesty program, his stance on nuclear proliferation, and his creation of programs that helped the poor, like the famed Land-Line program, which many conservatives today refer to as “Obama phones” for no apparent reason.
So with Pope Francis, liberals are willing to take the good with the bad. We can approve of some of his views, disagree with others, and determine whether or not we’re keen on him based on an aggregate of those opinions. This isn’t a zero-sum game to us the same way it is to conservatives. And that means Pope Francis’ hardline positions on climate change, helping the needy, and considering immigrants as people are able to outweigh his views on marriage equality, abortion, or contraceptives. Because again… no one is perfect.
If we can double back to Howard Kurtz’ op-ed for a moment, Kurtz almost ended his piece on a note we can agree on: conservative politicians and right-wing media outlets have been attempting to run Pope Francis through a meat grinder, which is hypocritical at best.
But in the end, Kurtz argues that “it is hard to politically pigeonhole this Pope.” No, Howard, it isn’t. Pope Francis is as progressive as progressive gets. He might lean right on some issues — that’s not unheard of — but the issues he’s most passionate about, the ones he devotes the vast majority of his time to trying to change? Those are traditional Christian values… and traditional liberal values, too.