Brent Budowsky: The year of the pope

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One of the most important and under-reported political breaking news stories of the year was reported by the Catholic News Service in a story datelined from Vatican City on Jan. 6, 2015. In that story, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of State, said that when Francis visits Philadelphia this coming September, he will probably also visit New York and the District of Columbia.

While nothing is certain about the pope’s itinerary until it is formally announced, there is a high probability that if Francis visits New York, he will address the United Nations, which will be gathering for its annual meetings in September, and if he visits Washington, he may address a joint session of Congress, unless congressional Republicans have the bad judgment to oppose it, which is unlikely.

{mosads}The pope’s visit to America in September 2015 will have a dramatic impact on the public discourse and issue debates of the presidential and congressional campaigns that will formally begin in January 2016, to the advantage of liberals.

Think about this: Many liberals feel besieged with a Republican Congress, a Democratic president they do not fully trust and a Democratic front-runner for the presidency who appears to calculate how liberal she should be. But 2015 is shaping up as the year of Pope Francis, and in the months from today until Francis visits the U.S. in September, here is his main agenda, which should warm the hearts of liberals:

Francis has accelerated his moves to reform the Vatican bank and governance of the church; escalated his diplomatic initiatives, from relations with Cuba to supporting Mideast peace; continued his passionate advocacy for the rights of immigrants; renewed his calls for financial reform; and reiterated his calls for action from governing elites to help the poor, feed the hungry and reduce income inequality. 

Informed Vatican observers expect Francis to issue a papal encyclical in 2015 calling for dramatic action to protect the environment and reduce the dangers from climate change.

And consider this: As the presidential campaign shifts into high gear in September 2015 with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary approaching, this message of Francis will saturate the media before, during and after his visit to the U.S.

Let’s consider two key data points. First, according to the summary of polling from Real Clear Politics, approval of the Republican Congress is at a paltry 14 percent. Second, according to a Pew Research Center survey report released in December, approval for Francis among Americans is a phenomenal 78 percent.

Liberal Democrats advocating the papal policy agenda as stated above, championed by Francis with his 78 percent approval from Americans, would have a considerable advantage over Republicans and conservatives in Congress, who oppose this agenda and suffer from 14 percent approval.

To understand how Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina became the pope who challenges politicians and aspires to change the world, and why his trip to America in September 2015 can have and may be designed to have a powerful impact on our politics in 2016, I suggest two excellent books that are far more important to understanding America than insider stories about which Obama pollster works for Hillary Clinton and which GOP donor gives money to Jeb Bush. 

In Pope Francis: Life and Revolution by Elisabetta Piqué and The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh, the authors brilliantly tell the story of the humanity, faith and political perspective of the pope who is so popular.

This is certain: There will be a gigantic media buildup prior to the pope’s visit to America, anticipating his arrival. There will be saturation coverage of his every word while he is here, megaphoning his message. There will be extensive analysis after his departure assessing his impact, which could well be momentous if Francis addresses the United Nations and Congress. And then the 2016 campaign will begin in earnest.

Candidates who best heed the message of Francis will be rewarded by voters, which is good news indeed for liberals.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors Blog and reached at

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