MSNBC Trumpets Pope’s Liberal Side, Downplays Conservative Side

April 29th, 2014 6:00 PM

MSNBC seized on Pope Francis’s tweet yesterday that “Inequality is the root of social evil” to once again flog conservatives for their economic views. On Monday’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, fill-in host Ari Melber began a segment on the pontiff by gloating, “[S]ome Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. Specifically, between the pope's teachings and Rush Limbaugh's orders.” [Video below. MP3 audio here.]

First off, it’s a little dramatic to talk about Rush Limbaugh’s “orders.” He’s just one man who gives his opinions on the radio. And second, MSNBC wants to pretend Pope Francis is completely aligned with American liberals and against conservatives, but that’s not true. The pope may emphasize social justice, but he is thoroughly conservative and traditional on key cultural and theological issues.

For example, Francis has spoken of a greater role for women in the Church, but he also said that allowing women to become priests “is not a topic open to discussion.” While he has called for compassion for women who decide to have abortions, he has also strongly reaffirmed the Church’s moral opposition to abortion. While he has asked, “Who am I to judge?” a homosexual, he has also upheld the Church’s teaching that homosexual sex is sinful. A compassionate priest at heart, Francis loves all sinners, but hates the sin which alienates them from God and harms their relationships with others.

To borrow Melber’s line, one might say that some (Catholic) liberals are caught between a rock and a hard place. Specifically, between the pope’s teachings and MSNBC’s dogma.

A triumphant Melber declared, “[T]he pope is arguably the most visible public figure in the world, and he's not backing down from making this progressive economic argument, or from making it on moral grounds.”  

Having stated that conservative Catholics stand in opposition to the pope’s economic message, Melber then brought on Sister Simone Campbell, a liberal nun who opposes Francis and the Vatican on certain issues. Sr. Campbell, for example, supports the ordination of women. She and her group NETWORK also support ObamaCare, including the law’s contraception mandate.

But Campbell didn’t talk about her disagreements with Pope Francis. She only voiced her usual left-wing economic message, as if she and this pope were in complete agreement.

Below is a transcript of the full segment:


ARI MELBER: In the spotlight tonight, some Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. Specifically, between the pope's teachings and Rush Limbaugh's orders. You may remember that Pope Francis issued an influential papal exortion about economic inequality late last year. He urged people to reject the idolatry of money and an economy of exclusion. And that began an unusual debate about ethics and market capitalism that continues this week and set off a few Republicans who don't want anyone to challenge the, quote, “magic” of trickle-down economics.

[begin tape]

RUSH LIMBAUGH: This pope makes it very clear he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism. This is an unfettered anti-capitalist dictate from Pope Francis that's going way beyond matters that are ethical. This -- this is a -- almost a statement about who should control financial markets. Trickle-down is the magic. And yet here's Pope Francis. ‘Trickle-down policies have not been proven to work. And they reflect a naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.’ What the pope has written about, this is really befuddling because he's totally wrong. I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.

[end tape]

MELBER: It's not just pure Marxism on talk radio, either. The House Republicans' top man on the budget, Paul Ryan, who does campaign as a practicing Catholic, tried to put the pope's conversation in a more positive light.

[begin tape]

REP. PAUL RYAN: Bring the poor in, create upward mobility, and free enterprise that gives opportunity to everybody, no matter who they are and where they are in life and in America. That's what we're for. He's invited this debate, and I think it's a fantastic conversation.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you – you don't think he'd endorse your budget, do you?

RYAN: Of course not. I don't -- he's a pope. Popes don't endorse budgets. Popes say let's have a conversation about how to fix the broken status quo, how to bring the poor in, how to not have a welfare state and how to produce upward mobility.

[end tape]

MELBER: That conversation continued today as Pope Francis released a statement that he certainly knew would strike a chord out there. Quote, "Inequality is the root of social evil." The pope shared that thought on Twitter, enabling his followers to amplify the message, which they did. The missive was shared and favored over 20,000 times today. And the pope's increasing economic focus is also drawing coverage in the financial press. Bloomberg News here reporting, “Pope says inequality root of evil in post--canonization tweet.” And the economics website Business Insider noted, "The pope's thoughts on inequality couldn't be more clear." What's also clear is the pope is arguably the most visible public figure in the world and he's not backing down from making this progressive economic argument, or from making it on moral grounds. Joining me now is Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby and the author of the book A Nun on the Bus. And Josh Barro from the New York Times and an MSNBC contributor. Welcome to you both. Sister Simone, your thoughts today.

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Well, I was really excited to see the pope pick up this key aspect of his exhortation from November because, really, it is inequality that is driving us apart. It is separating those who do have wealth from those who don't, but what it's really doing is undermining our democracy and undermining our society. So I was glad he picked up that phrase and I was also glad that it got so much attention.


MELBER: Yeah, you mentioned the exhortation, and some will remember that, and that goes to what a modern pope he is. You know, Twitter can be used for photos, it can be used for nothing and piffle, or it can be used to revisit and broaden out more elaborate text. Let's read from the exhortation which was entitled "No to the Idolatry of Money," where he wrote, "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born." Josh, there's a lot going on in there. Part of it, I think, reflects his status and world view and experience from being from, you know, a different type of country and an economy, as many people feel in the developing world that they don't even have any real meaningful control over their economic conditions when they're so dependent on the global economy.

JOSH BARRO: Right. No, I think that's right. And I think with changing economic times the pope has been changing the focus of what the papacy is discussing publicly. I thought the exhortation was a lot better than the tweet today, which, if you take literally, is clearly incorrect. We do have too much inequality and rising inequality is a problem. Any sort of economy that produces broadly shared prosperity is going to have some degree of inequality. So I assume the pope didn't literally mean that we should have no inequality whatsoever. But I think what you see also in Argentina, where the pope is from, we see that inequality is a social problem but it is not the only social problem. Argentina's had a lot of economic problems, many of which have to do with problems with the rule of law that make it unclear who is going to own what property in the future and discourages investment, discourages productivity growth. So there are a number of things we need in an economy that works for everybody. One of those things is a more equal distribution of income, but there are a variety of things that we need in the mixed economy to make capitalism work for everyone. It's not that we need to reject capitalism.

CAMPBELL: And I think that's the experience in our nation as well, that we see the control of many of the court decisions seems to be a high preference for those who have wealth. We see the banks that are too big to fail, which preference those who control at the top as opposed to those who -- those small investors. We see over and over again the shift of money to the top. This is not just an Argentinean experience. This is a U.S. Experience. And this U.S. Story needs to be dealt with in these moral terms.

MELBER: Yeah, and you say moral terms, Sister Simone, and that's what struck me and why we played some of Rush Limbaugh and Paul Ryan. There's an empirical economics debate here about what works, and then there's also a values debate over what role our ethics should play in how we limit or –  in the efficiencies in the marketplace. So I mean, Sister, do you think that the pope here is able to actually weigh in on both effectively?

CAMPBELL: I think he's coming at it mostly from the moral perspective, but it's -- well, I'm a lawyer, and we would say it's shocking to the conscience of the court. And this is shocking to the conscience of the court of public opinion, that 95 percent of the recovery in our economy has gone to the top 1 percent, and that people -- 90 percent of our people have flat wages. This is wrong. I met a woman who works for minimum wage full-time, but because she lives in a high-rent area -- I mean, in the D.C. area –  she has to live in a homeless shelter, she told me, because she isn't making enough money to pay rent. I mean, in the richest nation on Earth our people working full-time can't pay rent? This is wrong.

MELBER: And let me just read a little more of the exhortation on this point. The pope writes, "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth encouraged by a free market will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expressed as a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the prevailing economic system.”

BARRO: Yeah. No, I think that’s right, and I think different economic times call for different economic policies, some of which need to aim at the broad middle class and the poor. Right now the reason that 95 percent of income gains since the end of the recession have gone to the top 1 percent is that there's been essentially no income gain for the bottom 99 percent. And if we had fiscal and monetary policies that promoted full employment, employers would have to pay higher wages in order to employ people. So there would be a way to adjust the market economy to improve those outcomes. On the other hand, there are some policies we need that do encourage the creation of capital, that encourage people to invest in businesses, and in some sense those are benefits that trickle down. So there are actions that need to be taken both at the top and the middle and the bottom of the economy. It's a holistic approach rather than saying just one or the other.

MELBER: We're out of time, but Sister Simone, you're shaking your head. Just briefly.

CAMPBELL: Briefly, I think that we have had policies that preference the top. It's about time that we focus on those who are the hard workers, who create the wealth for those at the top. They need to participate. That's what we need.