It has been a week in which two enormously out-of-touch institutions were in the forefront of news coverage.
The first, of course, is the Catholic Church. I do not have an opinion as to whether the new Pope will be good, bad or indifferent and, indeed, do not much care. But I find the pageantry and ritual fascinating, from speaking in Latin to the smoke billowing from a chimney on the Sistine Chapel. In trying to determine whether the new pontiff will change the direction of an increasingly moribund institution, I found the composition of the College of Cardinals, as reported by The Boston Globe, fascinating. Of the 115 cardinals eligible to vote for the new pope – they had to be under the age of 80 – fully 37 lived in the Vatican. One of every three cardinals lived in what has to be one of the world’s most insular environments. And if reports about corruption and infighting within those hallowed walls are correct, the atmosphere is more Renaissance than Apple. So I’m not looking for much of a change on same-sex marriage. One great opportunity was missed, however, in announcing the new pope’s identity. With a last name of Bergoglio, it would have been great to hear that soccer announcer yelling, “It’s Bergooooooooooooalio!”
Since we are on the subject of insular, moribund organizations, how about those Republicans? When the Conservative Political Action Committee decided not to invite a politician as popular as Chris Christie to their annual event, but did have as speakers such has-been’s or never-were’s as Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, what does that say about the possibility of new ideas coming forth from the Grand Old Party? I mean Sarah Palin’s idea of a political statement is drinking from a large cup of soda. That event was followed by the Chair of the Republican National Committee delivering what he described as an autopsy for the party. While the RNC is not a policy-making body, who is going to be setting the policy that will expand their appeal to a new generation of Republicans? Rush Limbaugh? Sean Hannity? Ted Cruz? While it’s obvious that attracting people from various minority groups such as blacks and Latinos is becoming increasingly necessary for a national party, the RNC report was not even dry before conservatives started attacking President Obama’s selection of Latino Tom Perez for Secretary of Labor. His transgression? Not bringing a prosecution against the New Black Panther Party when he worked in the Department of Justice. Even though he was not in charge of the Civil Rights Division when that decision was made, the facts will not get in the way of what those on the fringes think is a good political argument. So we have yet another nutty conspiracy theory (remember Benghazi?) targeting a Latino who did not prosecute a black organization. So why is it, again, that the Republicans are not appealing to minorities?
If a political party is looking for a topic to focus on – and it’s not as though the Democrats are filled with great ideas – you could start with Steven Brill’s article in the March 4 Time, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us.” I have to admit that health care financing is not a topic I find particularly riveting, even though it is one of the most significant issues facing our country. I haven’t finished reading the piece, but it is both riveting and troubling. Brill took an approach of looking not at who should pay, but at why bills are so high. I have always wondered why the uninsured – generally the poorest among us – got higher bills for the same services provided the well-insured. I would like to think that this could jump start a serious discussion on health care costs.
Another worthwhile read is Lawrence Wright’s book on the Church of Scientology, Going Clear. Scientology is not one of those topics that I have ever focused on – I hope I am not displaying a remarkable lack of curiosity here – but this book is as revelatory and disturbing as the Brill piece, albeit for different reasons. Wright is a regular writer for The New Yorker and well-aware of the Church’s practice of commencing costly litigation against critics.
The snow is pouring down here in the Spa – the biggest storm of the winter – but Oklahoma opens on April 8, so spring is just about here.