The Corner

The Pope, Left & Right

By now everyone who’s been paying attention, has heard someone comment on the “paradox” of JPII. John Paull II was anticapitalist and anticommunist, for freedom and social conservatism, a friend of the Jews but not so much of Israel, whatever. The editors of NR offer some outstanding debunking of some of the more objectionable false-parallelisms in the media coverage. I also wrote a column — for which I’ve received a lot of very nice feedback — trying to address the fact that the Pope’s transhistorical message doesn’t fit into ideological categories.

Nonetheless, the “paradoxical pope” analysis seems to have gelled in conventional wisdom. Whatever the merits or demerits of this idea, what I find interesting is that conservatives generally saw the pope as an unmitigated hero while liberals tended toward the “mixed” legacy view. Indeed, to read E.J. Dionne and others, is to get the sense that the whole “paradoxical pope” meme is an attempt by liberals to reclaim JPII by saying, “He disagreed with conservatives too!”

But that’s what’s so interesting. From a purely ideological, movement conservative perspective, if the paradoxical pope stuff were true, the Right should have been just as eager to say the pope’s legacy was “mixed” as the Left was. JPII was opposed to the Iraq war(s), free-market economics (to some extent), the Cuba embargo, the death penalty etc. But, by and large, the Right refused to quarrel with him (Derb’s Derb’s superbly done column notwithstanding). The NR editors debunking of the paradoxical pope is peruasive but somewhat moot since I think most people haven’t thought as hard about the false-parallel’s as NR’s editors have.

Obviously, I’m not talking about rank-and-file Democrats and liberals. But at the level of ideological debate in this country, liberals found the Pope’s positions demonstrably more unforgivable than conservatives did. There are exceptions and complexities to this generalization, but I think it’s fundamentally right. It might illuminate one of the political problems Democrats have in addressing the “values issue.” Or maybe not. Something to ponder.


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