Hillary and Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit

At first blush, Pope Benedict’s visit to the U.S. the week before the Pennsylvania primary should be bad news for Sen. Clinton. He will denounce abortion, and she is backed by the most vocal pro-abortion groups in America. He will denounce the Iraq War and coverage will recall that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, warned against the war back when Clinton was voting to authorize it. And, he will embrace humane immigration reform, a subject Clinton has been shy about since she tripped over it during a debate last autumn, and one which does not play as well in Hazleton, PA as it did in Houston, TX. But, in every problem there lies opportunity. If the imbroglio over Rev. Jeremiah Wright is an opportunity for Obama to expand on his views about bigotry and solidarity as we suggested last week, the combination of Benedict’s visit and anti-immigrant hostility in economically depressed areas of the Rust Belt gives Clinton a chance to move past her greatest liability: her previous support for NAFTA, support that received new credence from the release of her White House schedules which show she was involved in lobbying for the trade bill. Americans look at immigration from the north side of the border. But, policy makers need to consider the view from the other side. We know why immigrants come to America: it is more free, more safe, and more filled with opportunity than any country on earth. But, why do they leave? People forget that part of the rationale for NAFTA was to create vibrant economies south of the border, so that U.S. exports would find new markets and so that jobs would exist close at hand, diminishing the need for the perilous trek northward across the Rio Grande. I have never heard Clinton talk about this aspect of NAFTA and how it has failed but her penchant for policy detail should easily help her navigate the issue better than she did the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers. What is certain is that at some point during his visit, Pope Benedict will call on America to be more generous in its development policies. The pope’s voice will reach people everywhere, but most especially the Catholic strongholds of Scranton, Philly and Pittsburgh. It is easier to be heard in a political campaign when you are echoing what is already out there. Most importantly, Clinton has yet to show how her much vaunted experience might make a difference in people’s lives, except to recall the 1990s nostalgically. Here she could show how sometimes it is experience that permits one to take a fresh look at a seemingly intractable problem like immigration, how the ability to connect policy dots is important, and how her candidacy is not the status quo candidacy it has been painted as. I doubt Clinton will embrace such a proposal. The polls in Pennsylvania show her with a solid lead and why rock the boat? In the time-honored playbook of American politics, look for Clinton to go increasingly negative on Obama in the weeks ahead, trying to shift the fundamentals of the race. Still, until America realizes that it needs vibrant economic growth throughout the hemisphere, that NAFTA was not only bad policy that needs to be reversed, but that good policy needs to be put in its place, then and only then will we be approaching comprehensive immigration reform. Michael Sean Winters

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