John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Papal Populism

Posted on November 28, 2013
The Pope spoke recently condemning “trickle-down economics” and the “idolatry of money” and calling for the rich to respect the poor.[/caption]

At the height of the Guilded Age in America and the Industrial Revolution elsewhere, Pope Leo the XIII issued a papal proclamation on the plight of the working classes in the new economy.

Rerum Novarum (Latin for “Of Revolutionary”) ironically was more evolutionary in its approach than revolutionary.  It rejected communism as it affirmed the right of citizens to have private property.  But it also said that laborers had a right to organize while rejecting unbridled capitalism.

Pope Leo probably isn’t at the tips of everyone’s tongues on the Thanksgiving, but Pope Francis certainly is.

And the new Pope has made news once again with an Apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, where he channeled his inner Pope Leo in condemning “trickle-down economics” and the “idolatry of money” and calling for the rich to respect the poor.

We interrupt this blog to let you know that if you want to shop at K-Mart starting right now or at Walmart at 6 pm tonight, you can do that, because the official start of Holiday shopping season has been pushed up a day.

The Papal pronouncement is a timely reminder that the conspicuous consumption and the evangelical materialism that usually accompanies the Christmas season ain’t all that it is cracked up to be.

The Pope’s comments prompted some discussion at a party we hosted at our house last night.  As one of our guests pointed out, capitalism has done a pretty good job of lifting people out of poverty, especially in America, especially when you compare it to Soviet and Red Chinese communism.   As Winston Churchill, the best attribute of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

But unbridled capitalism, one that leads to the rich getting richer at the expense of the middle class, one that stops lifting people above the poverty line but creates a troubling dynamic that makes it harder to achieve the America Dream, isn’t exactly the answer either.  And we need to admit that a system that leaves Wall Street bankers with all the money and the middle class in the middle of America struggling every day to pay the bills is a little bit askew.

The Pope’s exhortation wasn’t just about economics.  It was also about the Church hierarchy and the need for some decentralization.  Coming from South America, I am sure Francis has taken one look at the cesspool that is the Vatican and said to himself, and “these are the guys who are telling us what to do?”

Francis said "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."

Sounds like a message that could be resonate in Washington.  Substitute “Federal Government” for “Church” and you have pretty much defined a cure for the Congress.   Decentralize!  Let the states do their thing.  Stop with the ideological grandstanding and the procedural games and do some things for the people.

Francis is a populist in the best sense of the word, and you have to be truly living in your own little world if you don’t believe that his economic critiques have some validity.

We should be worried about the plight of the poor, the yawning and growing income gap, the unhealthy idolatry of money and about a federal government (and Church) that is so centralized and fixated on its own survival that it is incapable of delivering for the people.

Republicans shouldn’t ignore the Pope’s admonitions, nor should they be defensive about them.  Pope Francis isn’t saying anything on economics that hasn’t been said by other Pontiffs, like John Paul II or Leo XIII.  He has just said them in a sharper and more energetic way.

It’s a welcome and necessary message we should all take to heart.