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Funerals, Fences, Popes and Presidents

The President of the United States cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of the most distinguished Supreme Court Justice of the past half-century, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is currently leading the Republicans’ race to become the next president is having a “twitter” fight with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church over who’s the better Christian, and we are reminded yet again that we live in strange and contentious times.
President Barack Obama reportedly paid his respects to Justice Antonin Scalia while the late jurist lie in state, and that will have to do while Obama plots to seat a replacement who will undo all of Scalia’s good works. He’s insisting that the inevitable knock-down-dragpout barroom brawl to follow will be conducted in the most civil and mutually respectful way possible, and his spokesman has expressed his regret about his past attempt as a Senator to thwart another president’s Supreme Court appointment, which he now realizes is an awful thing for any senator to ever do to a president, and his friends in the media are earnestly hoping that the crazy right-wingers in the Republican party will be reasonable about a loony left-wing appointment despite their deep-seated racism, but it doesn’t seem off to a good start.
We expect the Republican response won’t include any of those racist slurs or subtle insinuations that the Democratic press is always so eagerly awaiting, but neither do we expect that it be at all polite, and certainly not so capitulatory as what the Democrats would consider reasonable. A few Republicans up for re-election in the most uncertain election year in anybody’s living memory might go wobbly, but those with safe red state seats, which aren’t even safe in these days of widespread burn-it-all-down sentiment, will feel the same pressure of public opinion not to budge an inch. They have the long history of resistance to lame duck appointments and the Democrats’ role in it on their side, as well, if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore, so Obama can’t reasonably hope for any more respect than he’s shown.
As the late and great Yogi Berra famously noted, “You should always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to yours,” and once upon a more civil and mutually respectful era of political knock-down-drag-out barroom brawls a president would have least put on a necktie to announce the death of even an ideologically opposed Supreme Court justice.
Once up on that more civil and mutually respectful era, however, you didn’t get “twitter” fights between Republicans and Pontiffs. The whole mess started when Pope Francis paid an extended visit to Mexico that included a brief prayer near the host country’s border with the United States. The Pope is an Argentinian and adherent of the socialistic “social gospel” and pretty much typical of international liberalism on all matters except sex and certain age-old doctrines that only Catholic need concern themselves with, so the prayer was widely interpreted as a political message, so one might conclude he started it all. Still, it would have gone largely ignored by the press north of the border, however, and would have been entirely ignored by the staid old Republican candidates of the good old funeral-going and necktie-wearing days, but these days the party’s front-runner is a billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who couldn’t resist “tweeting” that the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics is “a pawn of the Mexican government.” Such is the diplomatic savvy of the man who promises to make America great again, and these days we shouldn’t be surprised that it prompted such a clumsy response from the socialist Pope that a boastful, foul-mouthed, handicapped-mocking, proudly cuckolding, thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt gambling mogul, who has explained he is a forgiveness-seeking Christian only to the extent that “I eat my little cracker, drink my little wine,” somehow comes off looking better.
Pope Francis, who surely deserves some respect as the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics, and can surely be forgiven for not fully understanding the complexities of the most uncertain American election year of anybody’s memory, was of course asked about Trump’s “tweets,” which he might have understood of are the utmost importance in these strange and contentious times, and through interpreters that we can’t vouch for he wound up saying that there was something un-Christian about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Although we really do have great respect for the Catholic faith, and are rooting hard for the Little Sisters of the Poor to prevail in their court case and not have to pay that damnable Obamacare contraception mandate, something in our Protest and Republican souls must politely disagree. Our objections to unfettered illegal immigration are based the severe economic and cultural and political damage it has done in this country, but is also based on a belief that siphoning off the most industrious and resourceful citizens of the Third World who can thrive in America does no favor to their countries of origin, and that allowing those poorer countries to use the west as a dumping ground for their more unskilled and even criminal element allow them forestall the necessary reforms to make their own countries livable, and that the “social gospel” does provide the blueprint. Calling one’s faith into question over such matters is wrong, even by the degraded standards of American politics, and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of defending Donald J. Trump.
Which is not to say that we believe the Pope is a “pawn of the Mexican government,” any more than we believe that “Bush lied, people died” or all the “birther” claims or any of Trump’s crazed conspiracy theories, or that Donald J. Trump is a more exemplary Christian that the Pope or even the lowliest sinner who will confess that he falls short of the glory of God, but rather to say that we’re living in such strange and contentious times that Trump gets the best of it. He “tweets” his indignation that anyone would question anyone’s Christianity, even though Trump has lately been saying that pesky rival-for-frontrunner-status Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not a Christian because he lies by showing old videos of Trump saying things he says he doesn’t believe anymore, and has mocked onetime-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s claims of finding a spiritual path from his childhood rage, which Trump said was “pathological” and therefore incurable and that Carson was akin to a child molester, and he’ll likely prevail. The socialist Pope isn’t popular, not even with us, no matter how respectful we strive to be, and Trump’s a hot item in the press, despite his negatives in all the polls, at least until he wins the nomination, when all the horror stories start to show up in the media he’s supposedly been so skillfully playing.
These are strange and contentious times, and we doubt any of these guys from the Vatican to the White House to top of Trump Tower to the cheap-rent headquarters of those pesky rivals have any idea how it will play out. The Democratic race offers no hope, and is in fact at least as big a mess even without any papal intervention, so we’ll wait and see. All we know with any certainty is that it won’t be civil, and neckties won’t be required.

— Bud Norman

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The Devil and Rick Santorum

Many of Rick Santorum’s seemingly endless controversial remarks are quite defensible, but it’s becoming a rather Sisyphean chore to defend them.

The former Pennsylvania Senator and current Republican presidential candidate struggled mightily to stay on his economic message in an interview with CNN Tuesday, telling the network that “I’m going to stay on message, I’m going to talk about the things Americans want to talk about,” but it was to no avail. The report was about a speech Santorum gave four years ago at Florida’s Ave Maria University, in which he said that Satan was “attacking the great institutions of America” and that mainline Protestantism “is in shambles,” and on Tuesday, at least, that seemed to be the main thing politically-minded Americans wanted to talk about.

The mighty Drudge Report shouted the story from the top of its well-read page, offering the most incendiary snippets of the speech. The pugnacious New York Daily News weighed in with a shocked account of “Santorum’s extreme right-wing social positions.” The Christian Science Monitor, founded by a church with its own controversies, wondered “Does Rick Santorum have a Satan problem?” The left side of blogosphere went predictably crazy with the story, calling Santorum everything from a “nutjob” to a “semi-popular Sinclair Lewis character,” while the right side was conspicuously more reticent about the matter. Rush Limbaugh devoted much of his influential radio show to the issue, mostly to decry the double standard that other media apply to the religious views of conservatives, but even he conceded that “Santorum will have to answer on Satan.”

Santorum vows he will have answers, and they deserve a hearing before voters render any judgments. The idea that there is a supernatural force tempting mankind to evil is a tenet of many religions, including several that are non-western and therefore exempt from criticism by the same sorts of leftist commentators heaping ridicule on Santorum, was once embraced by many successful presidents of the past, and remains a widely-held belief even in modern America. The opinion that America’s mainline Protestant churches have gone theologically and politically squishy is widely shared by many Protestants of the sterner denominations.

Limbaugh is quite right in noting the double standards that prevail in much of the media, of course. When President Obama used the occasion of the National Day of Prayer to revive the old Social Gospel spiel to argue for higher tax rates on the wealthy, saying that “For Me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required,’” no one worried that a theocratic dictatorship was about to descend on the land. Nor did Obama’s 20-year relationship with the race-baiting, America-hating crazypants Rev. Jeremiah Wright ever receive anything like the proctological degree of media scrutiny devoted to Santorum’s four-year-old speeches. Nor do the media ever question the post-modern moral relativism that denies the very existence of evil, an idea every bit as wacky as anything that might come out of Rick Santorum’s mouth.

Limbaugh is also right to admit that the speech requires some answers, however, and therein lies an inescapable problem for Santorum and the Republican party he hopes to represent. Time spent reassuring the public that he won’t impose a Catholic version of sharia on the country is time that Santorum can’t devote to talking about the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, the trillions of dollars of debt that have been racked up in a futile attempt to revive the economy, the stunning incompetence of Fast and Furious and Solyndra and Lightsquared and numerous other scandals, rising gas and food prices, a deteriorating international situation, and dozens of other issues more pressing than four-year-old sermons. It looks unlikely that Santorum will ever get back on message, but the sooner the party does, the better.

— Bud Norman