Ixnay on photo ops with the pope

In my last post, I suggested that we reduce partisanship in Washington by imposing a fine on the major parties each time they fail to get 30 percent in a congressional race. This threat would be an incentive for the parties to recruit candidates who can appeal to local voters, and we might end up with moderate Democrats from Southern rural districts and moderate Republicans from Northern urban districts who don’t always vote the party line.

The National Journal’s Scott Bland reports a small step in the effort to boost more moderate congressional candidates: labor unions donating to Republicans. Bland has found documents indicating that two unions have kicked in some major cash to the Republican Main Street Partnership, which is backing relatively moderate canddiates in GOP primaries:

While both labor groups direct most of their millions to Democrats, they have consistently given smaller amounts to friendly Republicans.

But the scale of these six-figure donations — $250,000 from the [International Union of] Operating Engineers and $150,000 from [the Laborers’ International Union of North America] — makes this effort distinct. Plus, the money is coming as the Main Street group has been publicly declaring its intent to crush tea-party challengers in Republican primaries, going head to head with conservative bankrollers such as the anti-tax Club for Growth.

The Club for Growth is obviously not happy about this, but Main Street spokesman Chris Barron has a retort: “Barron rejected critiques of Main Street’s funding and positioning. ‘If the money came from Mother Teresa, the Club for Growth would attack where it came from,’ Barron said.”

“They’d even be against nuns!” is a clichéd response (and rather dated, when Mother Teresa is involved), but I wonder if there’s some truth in it, given some conservatives’ loud irritation with Pope Francis’ statements on the excesses of capitalism.

The National Catholic Register’s Mark Shea (h/t to Andrew Sullivan) has a scathing assessment of the backlash to Pope Francis among conservative leaders such as talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh:

Sorry, but the game plan of the Manufacturers of Thought for the Thing that Used to be Conservatism is pretty clear.  Having condemned Francis for his “pure Marxism” the coordinated strategy that is emerging in Right Wing organs of propaganda is to identify Francis with the Right’s most reviled bogeyman: Obama. A particularly notable example came out on December 4 at almost exactly the same moment Rush was issuing his second denunciation of Francis: FOX’s hit piece on the pope titled (signficantly) “Pope Francis is the Catholic Church’s Obama -- God Help Us.” Like Limbaugh, FOX understands that merely to make the comparison is, of course, to signal to the FOX faithful that Francis is being denounced as Worst Pope Ever in the FOX universe of discourse. The whole strategy of the Limbaugh/FOX attack is designed to make clear to the sort of person who gets all his thinking from Talk Radio (and there are a lot of these) that Francis has been designated an Ideological Enemy.

So if you’re a Republican candidate casting your lot with the Tea Party instead of the union-tainted Main Street Partnership, you might want to think twice about going to the Vatican for a photo-op. In some quarters, an audience with the Pope might be as big a gaffe as President Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela — something that “makes the stomach churn,” according to the National Review’s Mona Charen. Just make a stop at the local Knights of Columbus and leave it at that.


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