By John Feehery - 09/30/13 10:40 PM EDT
He was talking about homosexuality in that particular instance, but on a variety of issues, the new leader of the Catholic Church has decided to move beyond narrow issues to a wider discussion of how we live our lives, with a special emphasis on the limits of materialism.
He climbs down from his Popemobile and mingles with the people, wading into crowds, optimistic that his message of hope and redemption can carry the day. He refuses to live in the palatial headquarters of previous popes, living instead in a simple, spare dormitory for visiting priests.
Francis is a happy warrior, with a vision that focuses on the bigger picture, and he is determined to open the Catholic tent to embrace the world and make believers out of nonbelievers.
The Republican Party needs a happy warrior like Francis, now more than ever.
Francis didn’t change Catholic doctrine on abortion or on homosexuality, but by saying that the Catholic Church talks about these issues too much, he told his clergy and potential believers to find common ground on other issues.
The Republican Party doesn’t necessarily need to change its pro-life position, but it doesn’t need to pontificate on it at every opportunity either.
Ken Cuccinelli, running for governor in Virginia, is finding out the limits of being essentially a one-issue politician. He trails a very flawed Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, by a substantial margin, chiefly because of an enormous gender gap.
His predecessor, Bob McDonnell, easily won his race for governor, despite sharing essentially the same position on abortion. McDonnell won because he was a happy warrior, one who focused on economic growth, as well as meat-and-potato issues like solving gridlock in Northern Virginia.
Francis didn’t have to worry about the gender gap when the College of Cardinals voted him in to take the job, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the role women play in the life of the church, and he appreciates that they aren’t necessarily happy with the Catholic Church’s position on female priests. As he put it, “Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church.”
Similarly, Republicans have to understand that women are essential for the future electoral success of the party. The gender gap is a real and present danger, and Republican leaders have to pay more than lip service to solving this problem.
Talking about gaps, the pope has talked about the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
The Republican Party needs a leader who can speak convincingly and from the heart about the struggles of the working class, and who can come up with a strategy to grow the economy and help expand the middle class.
The pope has talked about the value of the immigrant.
The Republican Party needs a leader who not only understands the importance of immigrants to our economy and our society, but can also can convince the party’s base that taking an anti-immigrant position is not only politically idiotic but also morally suspect.
On humility, the pope said: “If one has the answers to all the questions that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.’’
In a world of egomaniacs like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — and Barack Obama — wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a leader who left a little room for doubt, a little room for the Lord and maybe a little room to find honorable compromise to help make the government work?
Francis has his share of conservative critics, just like any leader of the Republican Party is likely to have. But Francis hasn’t let that criticism slow him down. Let’s hope whoever leads the party in 2016 takes a similar approach.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.