You don’t know how glad I am to write a religion-and-politics piece that is not about Trump. At the same time, I have to ask: for this I dropped my usual shtick?
We might well ask Bernie Sanders the same question, except, well, he didn’t really. Sanders flew to Rome overnight to deliver a ten-minute speech to an academic conference put on by the Pontifical Academy for Social Science looking back on John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus—itself a review of Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum a hundred years after its publication.
How he kind-of-sort-of got invited to this event in the first place is a story unto itself, but the upshot is that he (or someone affiliated with his campaign) wrangled an invitation, failed to take a hint that they didn’t really want him to come after all, and then delivered not much in the way of a speech.
I’m serious. Ten minutes is not long to speak on a complex subject, and Sanders wasted almost a quarter of his speech thanking his hosts, name-checking popes, and giving an extensive quote from Centesimus Annus that he frankly would have been better off summarizing. The rest of it is Sanders’ usual stump speech, barely adapted to rather obviously bait Pope Francis into giving his blessing. (The campaign hoped for a meeting between the senator and the pontiff, a prospect that was summarily dismissed by the Vatican.)
Sanders rattles off more or less the same laundry list of complaints he’s used at every rally in the past year, with only the thinnest nods at setting his perspective in a deeper moral or intellectual context. Again, ten minutes does not allow very much room for a deep dive, which is exactly why the Sanders campaign should have taken the hint and decided there was a schedule conflict that prevented him from speaking after all.
The whole Bernie-goes-to-Rome thing has been a shambles, to be honest. The campaign got Sanders a back-door invite which surprised and irritated the academy president, not to mention stepping on the roll-out of Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s new teaching on the family. Then they did it again, taking a private jet to Rome to speak on the idolatry of money in the middle of a make-it-or-break-it primary in New York, and arriving in Rome on a day when the Vatican would much rather be talking about Francis’ meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew in Lesbos about the European refugee crisis.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Sanders showed up with his family in tow, undercutting the high-minded moral message he was supposed to be delivering, and Oh, sweet Jesus, did they really put his logo on a picture of the Pope?! All this in service of a message that won’t impress or inspire anybody who wasn’t going to vote for Sanders to begin with.
I suppose that was the goal all along, though: to maintain Sanders’ inspirational image. Either that, or they’re making some kind of bizarre, desperate play for the New York Catholic vote. Or again, maybe they were hoping a bird would land on his podium again, which would do about as much good. At this point, I just don’t know what to think.