WASHINGTON – Imagine emerging from a rocky political week only to announce, as Bernie Sanders did, that, oh, by the way, the Vatican called. Actually, it was the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, but close enough, I suppose.
Hillary Clinton thought bubble: He’s Jewish for crying out loud. What am I, chopped liver? No, I’m Methodist! But if I can become a New Yorker, I can become a Catholic!
Some people have all the kismet. Or, sometimes people just happen to agree that communism isn’t really so bad. OK, I’m exaggerating, but only a smidgeon.
Sanders is merely a democratic socialist, which sounds almost nice but means more or less equal misery. The pope is something else entirely. A pastoral leader who washes the feet of the homeless and eschews the elaborate trappings of the corner office, he’s the real deal, as in living as Christ did. He’s also a great, big troublemaker.
“People think Bernie Sanders is radical,” Bernie Sanders said Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Uh-uh. Read what the pope is writing [these days].”
Indeed, Francis is a radical, just as Jesus was in his time.
What’s radical about this pope is that he, like both Sanders and Jesus, says fresh, untraditional things that sound an awful lot like liberal ideas. But he’s speaking and writing as the pope, not as a president of the United States. His ideas are aspirational both in scope and in application. He calls us to love one another, as he should, but love doesn’t usually enter into the equations of a government-run economy. It can get rather messy at times – and mean.
The pope really believes that it’s better to give than to receive, which is why so many love him. Sanders thinks more or less the same way. The difference is that one wants to raise consciousness about our obligation to the less fortunate; the other wants to restructure America’s economic institutions to ensure that money trickles down – mandatorily rather than charitably.
Theoretically, this is a noble concept. It’s how you do it that causes taxpaying citizens to seek shelter. Let’s face it, most of us work hard not for the satisfaction of a well-made widget but for a paycheck. As the taxman chisels away at such monetary rewards, where goes the incentive to work hard? This is common sense, obviously, but less common than it once was, judging by the popularity of Sanders’ proposals.
His bid to break up the too-big-to-fail banks sounds awesome enough, especially if you’ve yet to pay any income taxes. Let’s stick it to the fat cats and watch them squirm. But will it really help the poor, or might such draconian action ultimately hurt more than it helps?
It’s important for Francis to speak out as a messenger for the greater good. It’s important, too, that we be reminded of our moral obligation to each other. It’s also his job – and something else entirely to conflate a pope’s message of Christian charity with a political candidate’s promise to remake America’s economic system. The “rampant individualism” that Francis condemns is precisely what has driven American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a level of prosperity unmatched in human history.
That more people are doing less well – and the middle class has suffered – means there’s work to do, but it doesn’t necessarily require radical restructuring. The striving for greater equality is always a proper principle, but, again, is aspirational. The imposition of equality by a third-party – the state – inevitably carries the penalty of less freedom. It’s a balance we should seek rather than extreme measures that more likely would have a destabilizing effect.
A pope needn’t worry about such things and is free to ponder the universe through the pulpit’s lens. He is also free to chat with politicians who share his worldview, though from Sanders’ confusion about his Vatican invitation, it isn’t clear whether he and the pope will convene. And his invite wasn’t, as it turns out, quite so beneficently extended.
“Sanders made the first move, for the obvious 1 / 8political 3 / 8 reasons,” Margaret Archer, the academy’s president, told Bloomberg News. “I think in a sense he may be going for the Catholic vote, but this is not the Catholic vote, and he should remember that and act accordingly – not that he will.”
At least one person we can guess was delighted by this amended news. Imagine emerging from a rocky political week only to learn, as Hillary Clinton did, that, oh, by the way, the Vatican just called your opponent. Miracles never cease.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.