Pope to Congress: Try to behave yourselves

     Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

    Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, making history as the first pontiff to do so. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

    Here’s my slam-dunk prediction: Washington will fail to heed Pope Francis’ earnest plea for a political detente.

    Everyone in the House chamber was on their best behavior this morning, dutifully applauding as the Pope appealed to the better angels of their nature. They listened respectfully when he insisted that “the chief aim of all politics” is “the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good…an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build, as one, the greatest common good.”

    He pleaded for “a renewal of that spirit of cooperation” because “the complexity, the gravity, and the urgency of (our) challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences.” But clearly, he’s also a realist. He knew who he was talking to. He told the politicians in attendance, “I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”

    Yeah, right. Rest assured that by early next week, with the Pope in their rear view mirror, they’ll return to their worst behavior, to the ideological polarization that passes for governance in the 21st century – with a potential government shutdown at the top of what passes for an agenda. Soon enough, we’ll be back to business as usual.

    At one point or another, the Pope said stuff that discomfited everyone. Democrats and socially-tolerant Republicans surely squirmed during his semi-veiled swipe at gay marriage: “I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relations are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

    And those who support abortion rights probably winced when he said, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

    But just when that looked like a Republican applause line, the Pope made it clear that he was indeed talking about every stage of life: “This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.”

    And death penalty advocate John Boehner – who had been so abundantly tearful during the address – was suddenly sitting there dry-eyed.

    The best part, however, was when the Pope segued into the topic of climate change – and America’s need to fully confront that reality. We all knew those passages were coming. Boehner, who leads the House wing of the denialist party, knew those passages were coming. The Pope had signaled as much, with his summer encylical, which called man-made climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity. ” So Boehner and his fellow denialists had to just sit there and take it.

    The Pope teased the topic early on: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” Ouch. Republican politicians are enslaved to the Koch brothers and the other deep-pocket fossil fuel moguls who bankroll the junk-science think tanks. Where was the Pope going with this? Boehner and his brethren soon found out:

    “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good. This common good also includes the earth….We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.

    “I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States, and this Congress, have an important role to play….I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”

    Wow. That’s pretty science-y, wouldn’t you say? Put this fellow on a Republican debate stage, and he’d get booed off.

    The pontiff also offered this advice: “A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.”

    Knowing how Washington operates these days, you think he’ll get any takers?

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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