I'll admit it. I indulged myself in a spate of silly cynicism as I watched CNN's coverage of the Pope-a-Palooza yesterday afternoon. I even started humming "The March of the Flying Monkeys" from The Wizard of Oz as the Swiss Guard strutted around St. Peter's Square. I mused over the possible genetic origins of Chris Cuomo's speech patterns (he sounds just like his dad, Mario and a more refined version of his guv bro, Andy) while I paid no attention to what he was actually blathering on about.
Then my ears perked up when they announced the name that the new Argentinian pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had chosen: Francis. I at first assumed it had to be an homage to fellow Jesuit Francis Xavier, of the elitist class of xenophobe, proselytizer and inquisitor saints. Then came confirmation that Bergoglio had taken his name after that most radical leftist of Christian saints, Francis of Assisi. Then came news that, while a typical hardliner in matters of contraception and gay rights, the new pope is both a champion of poor people and a foe of government austerity for poor people. And given that popes, despite all the well-deserved bad press the Church has gotten lately, are news-makers and that what they say always gets covered in the corporate press, that just maybe the deficit hysteria possessing not only this country but most of Europe, will finally get a much-needed exorcism.
Dylan Matthews, an economics writer at the Washington Post, has written an interesting piece on the new pope's macroeconomic philosophy, which is more Keynes/Krugman than Milton Friedman and disaster capitalism Chicago school. Bergoglio, unfortunately, is not so radically humanitarian as to have been a supporter of South America's Liberation Theology movement; he was even implicated in the "disappearance" of two politically active Jesuits during a right-wing junta in 1976. But at least, the new pope and his fellow bishops did fight back against the Argentinian government when it mulled the imposition of austerity during its own economic meltdown in 2002. A free-market neoliberal the new pope most certainly is not:
A paper by Thomas Trebat, “Argentina, the Church, and Debt,” details the church’s role in the crisis’s resolution. Argentine bishops, including Francis, had long criticized the laissez-faire policies of Carlos Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999. “The bishops were critical of the economic model as a generator of poverty and unemployment, notwithstanding the stability it had brought to the country,” Trebat wrote.
And when the debt crisis hit in 2002, the church called in strong terms for a debt restructuring to take place which privileged social programs above debt repayment. They argued that the true problems in the Argentinian economy were, in their words, “social exclusion, a growing gap between rich and poor, insecurity, corruption, social and family violence, serious deﬁciencies in the educational system and in public health, the negative consequences of globalization and the tyranny of the markets.”I guess you can tell how far to the right this whole capitalist world has swung when we can rejoice when a new pope chooses a symbolic name that does not glorify rich people. No Pope Lloyds yet, even though Blankfein is infallible and and immune, and has publicly declared he is doing God's work and lightning did not strike. Jorge/Francis has got a whole lot of his own Vatican bank chicanery to clean up as it is. And as Charles Pierce astutely points out, the new guy is an old guy and thus a convenient place-holder for the real guys in charge. Plus, he has only one lung.
Joe Biden is reportedly going to attend the anti-bling pope's coronation. Maybe Jorge/Francis can whisper a little sermonette into the the VP's ear on the evils of austerity, the class war, income disparity and sequestration. Maybe Joe Biden will undergo another epiphany and can once again "get out ahead of his skis" like he did on marriage equality and shoot his mouth off on national television about the need for Medicare for All. Maybe the corporate media will develop some honesty about the cruelty of not only Paul Ryan's latest Randian manifesto, but also about President Obama's own war against older people. Dean Baker has crunched the numbers, and proven what we already knew: Obama's so-called "balanced approach" of cuts and revenues actually does punish retirees in a cruelly lopsided way:
Paul Ryan, meanwhile, is reprising his supporting role in the continuing saga known as American Austerity Theater. He is the useful idiot of the Deficit Brigade, acting out ever more extreme Randian fantasies. He is the indestructible Rasputin cast against the centrist Democrats' phony Franciscan monastery. He is a parody of himself at this point. Even the negative attention he is getting from the usual purveyors of progressive outrage is misplaced, because it merely serves to make the similarly cruel Obama seem reasonable. Ryan, as he rails against food stamps and medical care for the poor, looks like the devil incarnate. Obama, as he flashes his boyish, aren't-I-adorable grin, is the devil in disguise.
Francis of Assisi repudiated riches and lived to serve the downtrodden. Ryan and Obama have repudiated the downtrodden and live to serve the rich. May the spirit of St. Francis rise again, and become a continuous thorn in both their sides.