During his U.S. visit, Pope Francis went places that few on the national political scene dare to go. Now we need to make certain that his calls for social justice, compassion and the “Golden Rule” have an impact on policy.
There are several issues the Pope inserted into the discussion that have been barely addressed.
One is prison reform.
President Obama, after seven years, has finally found the voice to raise this subject, even foreshadowing the pope’s stunning visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia with his own historic trip in July to El Reno Correctional Institution in Oklahoma. At the prison, Francis stated in empathetic tones, “I am here as a pastor, but, above all, as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own.”
That visit followed his plea to the joint session of Congress for the “global abolition of the death penalty.” None of the presidential candidates has raised a ban on capital punishment as a key issue.
Given his Argentine heritage and the current immigration debate in this country, Francis’ remarks on immigration carried a sharp and personal edge. It certainly had to be uncomfortable to hard-liners in Congress when he reminded them in his congressional address that “so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
The Pope also raised the profile of lesser-known Americans whose views during their lifetime were viewed by many as extreme. He cited socialist, feminist and Catholic activist Dorothy Day to talk about helping the poor, and he mentioned the theologian Thomas Merton in advocating for peace and diplomacy.
It would be dishonest to pretend that the Pope’s visit was equally damaging to the Democrats and Republicans. On issues ranging from income inequality and climate change to immigration and foreign policy, it is clear that he is a progressive — as are the majority of Americans.
A number of Republicans running for president — Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, in particular — criticized the Pope for being too political, said he was out of touch with the U.S. public, and flat-out wrong on topics from climate change to Cuba. In fact, the Republicans are the ones who are out of step with the majority of the American people. Poll after poll show the public is much closer to Pope Francis than it is to the GOP on a variety of subjects.
Despite the outpouring of love and warmth shown the pontiff during his visit, politics in this country remain bitterly divided, dragged down by the scapegoating he denounced and plagued by low voter turnout among disaffected citizens. We would do well to integrate the Pope’s message and open our hearts to a broader, more generous and more populist national political conversation.
Clarence Lusane is the chairman of the political science department at Howard University. He can be reached at email@example.com.