Pope Francis came to America as the head of the Catholic Church, the vicar of Christ, and a committed advocate for the poor. And he delivered to Congress a message reaffirming conservative principles and policies.
The Pope’s visit prompted a debate over whether his speeches and positions would endorse conservative or liberal policies. Liberals, even those who have never shown much respect for religion, appeared gleeful about a pope who speaks often about the poor, immigrants, and human dignity. On the other hand, conservatives seemed guarded. But this attitude was misplaced. It related more to the Left’s mischaracterization of the Right than to the actual policies and principles of conservatism.
Regardless of whether Pope Francis is a political liberal or conservative, his speech to Congress should provide both an inspiration and reaffirmation to conservatives. Rather than qualifying Francis’ message, conservatives should embrace it. Indeed, conservative policies have proven best able to address the concerns of Pope Francis.
Following the example of Pope Francis, conservatives should be pushing the subject of poverty at every opportunity. Conservative economic policies lift people out of poverty, whereas liberal policies sustain the poor in a state of dependency. Conservative economic policies expand work opportunities and provide for upward mobility, whereas liberal policies expand government and depress job creation.
The Obama presidency provides a clear example. After seven years of phenomenal government growth, the rich are significantly richer while the poor and disadvantaged have fallen further behind. Big government works well for big business, big wealth and big bureaucracies, but it does not work well for the working and middle class. There is greater inequality now, after seven years of liberal policies, than at any other time in the twentieth century. Government has grown, but so has poverty.
The Left has no answer to this growth of poverty. It expands the food stamp program, which provides a short-term fix but does nothing to create opportunity. It advocates an increased minimum wage, which in the end only increases poverty, unlike the conservative-sponsored Earned Income Tax Credit. And even though the state of the family is the most significant factor influencing poverty, the only response of the Left is to push for gay marriage.
Liberalism does not aim to eliminate poverty; it aims to manage it. Liberalism creates a huge government bureaucracy to dole out subsistence benefits to an ever growing client class. And in doing so, it strives to create and sustain an enduring political constituency.
Next to an intact family, education provides the best means of avoiding poverty. Yet once again, the Left favors government growth over economic mobility.
The Left has no answer to the pervasive web of horrific urban schools that trap poor youth in a hopeless future. Liberals consistently oppose school-choice policies that give to the poor the same educational opportunities enjoyed by the wealthy.
Where is the individual dignity in being confined to a life of dependency on a distant, elite-run government? Where is the dignity in being denied the same chance to advance educationally as that possessed by the rich?
Conservatives should celebrate Francis’ forceful message on poverty. His call to help the poor is a call conservatism answers more effectively than the Left. Its record of providing opportunity, independence and dignity to all people is a record of which conservatism should be proud. Pope Francis’ advocacy for the poor should only prompt conservatives to advocate more intensely their anti-poverty measures.
In his advocacy for the poor, Pope Francis decries the globalization of indifference, which results from the worldwide move toward centralization and away from community. This dignity-robbing centralization denies individuals the support of strong communities. But again, it is conservatism that has historically stood up for community. It is conservatism that has consistently opposed the liberal push for centralization and the erosion of local community. And it is conservatism that should applaud Francis’ warnings about the centralization of indifference.
Just as conservatives should applaud Pope Francis’ poverty message, they should welcome his concern for immigration. As Francis recognized, America is a nation of immigrants. And since conservatives value the historic identity and traditions of America, they inherently value immigrants and seek to preserve America as an immigrant nation.
To value immigrants is to welcome them to a society prepared to help them find economic and educational opportunity, safe neighborhoods, religious freedom and a secure future. But none of these pursuits are possible if the rule of law has been abandoned vis a vis immigration.
Nonsensically, the Left proclaims itself the champion of immigrants simply because it argues that there should be no difference between legal and illegal immigration. But Pope Francis’ passionate defense of immigrants is no endorsement of the Left, since the Left does not honor the dignity of the immigrant. The Left is simply trying to pander to the issue so as to build a political constituency. And even worse, it is exploiting the most vulnerable of immigrants – the illegal immigrant.
The Left wishes to regulate everything in American life…except for immigration. Liberals seek to ignore centuries of democratically enacted immigration laws. To the Left, lawlessness is in the immigrant’s interest. But does this give dignity to the people wishing to enter this country in search of a more stable society?
During his visit to America, Pope Francis conveyed a timeless message of human dignity. It was a message that should inspire a renewed commitment to and confidence in conservative efforts to bring justice, security and opportunity to all those struggling and striving members of society.
Patrick Garry is a professor of law at the University of South Dakota, and Director of the Hagemann Center for Legal & Public Policy Research.