On Tuesday, Pope Francis issued an extraordinary, detailed and politically profound apostolic exhortation in which he called on political leaders and politicians to reject trickle-down economic theories that create the exclusion and inequality that kills people.
Francis condemns the “idolatry of money” and the excesses of unbridled capitalism with words such as “dictatorship” and “a new tyranny.” He calls on politicians to overhaul the financial system and guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.” In effect, Francis calls systematic economic inequities a form of super-death-panel, quoting the commandment “thou shalt not kill” and reminding us that these inequities do in fact “kill” people.
The pope can fairly be called a liberal populist reformer on matters of economics, finance, poverty, social justice, education and healthcare — issues he directly confronts. He seeks to transcend traditional boundaries of a welfare mentality and assertively champion, instead, fundamental structural reforms of a systemically unjust economic system. He cites and condemns unjust economic theories such as trickle-down economics that cause the abuses he deplores and the pain he seeks to heal.
As Francis writes: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
The pope’s litany for action bears a compelling resemblance to the policy proposals of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressive populists in the House, Senate and state houses and their counterparts in Europe and throughout the world.
Francis profoundly prays: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!”
The statements by the pope offer a compelling indictment of the economic philosophy and policies of most Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party advocates and laissez-faire libertarians ,who champion the wholesale dominance of the unbridled capitalism that the pope condemns.
Francis also offers a challenge to Democratic politicians.
It is shameful that as Thanksgiving arrives and Christmas approaches, millions of poor Americans are told by official Washington that their food assistance must be cut and that their jobless benefits must expire, while politicians attend Gilded Age campaign fundraisers or make their fortunes leaving government service for revolving-door jobs with special interests.
As the right attacks the interests of the poor and the pope prays for the betterment of the poor, Democrats should fight for the poor with courage, vigor and tenacity.
Politically, the moral leadership of Francis is good news for progressive Democrats who boldly transform his visions into policy proposals that appeal to Catholic voters, and voters of all faiths, who adhere to what Francis reminds us are the teaching of Jesus, and are in fact the teachings of most great faiths.
Politically the moral leadership of the pope is bad news for those Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party advocates and libertarians who politically worship at the altar of the unbridled and unregulated excesses of capitalism that Francis deplores.
In American politics from 2006 until today, there has been a wave of progressive populist ascendance in virtually every national election, with the exception of 2010. Far more often than not, in 2006, 2008 and 2012, the more progressive populist candidates and party prevailed over advocates of the “tyranny” of market abuses Francis calls on us to end.
Throughout America and the world, the great issue of our time is the systematic economic unfairness and inequality that punishes the poor and leaves the middle class trapped by declining or stagnant standards of living.
It is time for a more muscular, assertive, self-confident and principled progressivism that defines our national narrative and empowers a lasting majority coalition for true and powerful change.
If Hillary Clinton courageously champions the causes that Francis prays for political leaders to champion, she could win an epic landslide and create a transforming FDR-magnitude political realignment.
I wish all a Happy Thanksgiving and wonderful holiday season — and again call on Congress and the president to act to provide food for the poor, and joblessness benefits for the jobless, before leaving town for the year.
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 Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.