As Pope Francis prepares to make his first official visit to the United States, Republicans are already up in arms over his message of economic justice and the need to combat climate change. They have found themselves in a truly bizarre position, at odds with the massively popular patriarch of global Catholicism over policy positions and are caught in a bind as the entire Republican platform at risk of being publicly exposed for the hypocrisy that it is.
For example, Republican Catholic Congressman Rep. Paul Grossar (R-AZ), Tea Party darling (of course) and longtime anti-climate science crusader who once attempted to impeach the EPA Administrator, has boycotted the Pope’s address to Congress. He railed against the Pope’s message in a public complaint, whining that “this climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into ‘climate justice’ and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies.” He went so far as to declare an open season on the Pope and his progressive ideas: “When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.”
Given the utter disrespect and vitriol with which the American right-wing deals with “leftists,” Grossar’s petulant indignation is simply more evidence of how the Republican Party uses and manipulates religion to their own uses. As soon as the leader of the worldwide Catholic congregation began espousing ideas that don’t fit in with the GOP’s plan for America, he was denounced as an ideological threat and promptly dismissed by his legislative “faithful”. Grossar even said it in as many words himself: “It is my hope that Pope Francis realizes his time is better spent focusing on matters like religious tolerance and the sanctity of all life.” Which of course, should be read as “repressing gays and abortion rights.”
Behind the scenes, the Koch Brothers, who worship naught but Mammon at the altar of greed, have begun coordinating a public smear campaign against the Pope. The director of the Heartland Institute, a “libertarian” pro-business “think tank” that is funded by the Kochs and works with ALEC to roll back renewable energy initiatives, decried the Pope in a recent speech as a “pagan” and a “communist”: “what is environmentalism but nature worship?” This is coming from the director of a group who compared climate change advocates to Osama Bin Laden and the Unabomber.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump, when asked about the Pope’s stance on these issues, replied only with a thinly-veiled threat: “I’d say ISIS wants to get you.” The outpouring of misplaced anger and fury over the Pope’s insistence on having a rational discussion about economic justice and climate change just goes to show how far the oligarchs will go to protect the ideals of free market hyper-capitalism, and how absurd their efforts to push back will eventually become. The Pope’s visit represents a huge opportunity to redirect the national election narrative away from distracting social issues and threatens to derail the entire Republican agenda by pushing income inequality, poverty, and climate change to the center of the public debate. We have already wasted too much time re-fighting social issue battles that were decided long ago and pull attention away from the real issues facing our nation.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.