Politics is fascinating, in part, because unexpected external factors sometimes influence policymaking. This is just a fancy professorial introduction to questions dominating the media from unlikely sources — Pope Francis and presidential contender Carly Fiorina. We review the impact of “His Holiness” and “Her Toughness.”
Pope Francis has bluntly jumped into political issues, ranging from the evils of capitalism, climate change, immigration and the arms trade to abolishing the death penalty. So political commentators are arguing about the pontiff’s influence in policy deliberations. Should Utahns expect the pope’s comments to alter national politics?
Pignanelli: “I admire the pope. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can tour without an album.” — Rita Rudner
When the Vatican announced the new pope chose Francis as his papal name, hundreds of millions of Catholics exclaimed some variant of "wow!" After Jesus Christ and his mother Mary, the most popular figure in Christendom is St. Francis of Assisi. This beloved 13th-century Italian monk (my patron saint, of course) founded the Franciscan Order, authored songs and prayers still in use today and dedicated his life to help the poor, animals and children.
The pope is fulfilling the tradition of St. Francis by describing his papal role as “the duty, in Christ's name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.”
Pope John Paul II is credited as an influence on the downfall of the Soviet Union and John XXXIII for expanding religious tolerance.
Francis’ credibility will not diminish, so he could have a subtle influence on global and American decisionmakers in the years to come.
Webb: I believe Pope Francis is a sweet, humble, caring leader, truly concerned about young people, families and those who are suffering around the world. But I’m not so enamored of his politics.
Obviously, both liberal and conservative politicians embrace the pope’s comments that bolster their ideological positions. But it seems to me that liberal politicians enjoyed his visit, and his speeches, much more than conservatives. For example, conservatives cheered his exhortation to “protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” But then he expanded the thought by advocating the “global abolition of the death penalty” — not the global abolition of abortion.
President Barack Obama, of course, basked in the pontiff’s reflected light, selectively highlighting issues on which they agree (like climate change) and ignoring topics about which they disagree (like abortion).
Personally, I embrace the pope’s message on immigration and the refugee crisis. His focus on the importance of family is wonderful.
He has had a successful trip to the United States, but his visit won’t change politics here very much.
Does the pope offer any lessons for Utah's religious leaders?
Pignanelli: People of all faiths respect the pope for his humility and desire for changes in church policies. Although he is close to 80, his charisma appeals to the young.
Mormons openly express their affection for Pope Francis. I believe he is popular with LDS faithful because he reminds them of their prophets. For example, President Gordon B. Hinckley and Pope Francis share the same down-to-earth, grounded approach and popular appeal.
Pope Francis has delivered many pronouncements, articulating important proposed changes to church guidelines — but final enactment on any is still waiting. Conversely, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are more circumspect in announcements but are very efficient in enacting objectives. So while there is much to admire in the Vatican leader, Rome can learn a lot from observing Salt Lake City.
Webb: If top LDS Church leaders jumped into contemporary politics as much as Pope Francis does, they would be severely criticized for trying to influence public policy. So one lesson for church leaders of any denomination could be to ignore the critics, follow Pope Francis’ example and take positions on all sorts of issues.
That’s not something I recommend, however. I believe a much better role for religious leaders is to teach faith in God and obedience to fundamental Judeo-Christian principles and commandments. They should focus on eternal, universal truths and the basics of a righteous, service-oriented life.
If they do that, and their adherents follow their counsel, then the politics will take care of itself.
Certainly, religious leaders have every right to jump into the rough-and-tumble of politics. But when they do so, they become another politician, another advocate, subject to criticism and opposition.
In the last GOP debate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina energized moral conservatives with her attacks on abortion. She seemed to shame the Republican Congress for funding Planned Parenthood. Will her impassioned plea force another budget impasse and government shutdown?
Pignanelli: The government shutdown strategy was on life support until Fiorina’s debate performance. But Senate and House leaders are now scrambling to stop the new momentum for protest. How this ends will boost or doom Fiorina’s prospects in 2016.
Webb: I doubt Congress is paying much attention to the presidential candidates. Fiorina didn’t specifically suggest shutting down the government. If Congress does so, Republicans will pay a high political price and it will set back the cause of conservatism and pro-life efforts.