How close were Bush and John Paul II?

Reporters note how Bush adopted some of the pope's teachings, but there were diffrences between the men as well.

Published April 4, 2005 4:33PM (EDT)

With plans in motion for President Bush to become the first U.S. president to attend a Vatican City funeral, there's lots of analysis underway about the political ramifications of the papal passing, with reporters noting how much time and energy this administration has spent courting the Catholic vote, long considered a Democratic stronghold.

"Mr. Bush's efforts are part of an overall drive by his chief adviser, Karl Rove, to make inroads among typically Democratic groups of voters," the New York Times notes today, suggesting that under Pope John Paul II's reign, the supremacy of social conservatism within the church has had important political ramifications in America.

The paper reports, "The attempt by some Catholic Church leaders to influence American policy goes back at least to the 1930's, when bishops pressed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create Social Security. But in recent years, the emphasis has shifted away from fighting poverty and standing up for civil rights, issues associated with the Democratic Party, and toward issues like opposition to abortion, gay rights and euthanasia, issues that Mr. Bush and the Republicans have embraced."

The Times dwells on the trouble Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., ran into on the campaign trail when some U.S. church leaders suggested that because of his support of abortion rights, Kerry should not be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion. The Times also notes, "Mr. Bush borrowed what had been a signature phrase of John Paul, as he talked about guarding 'the culture of life,' and he has forcefully embraced the Vatican's views on abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage."

The clear implication from the article is that the Catholic Church has been beating up on Democratic politicians, and that Bush is more closely aligned with Vatican City on key issues. Yet for some reason the Times completely fails to mention key areas where Pope John Paul II forcefully -- and publicly -- disagreed with Bush, with the most obvious example being the war in Iraq.

By contrast, today's Los Angeles Times does a much more complete job surveying the U.S. political landscape in the wake of the pope's passing, noting, "for all the praise the president has lavished on Pope John Paul II in recent days, the relationship between the two men and their politics was tense and complex. And for all the attention paid to the role of social conservatives in Republican politics, the 'Catholic vote' is still up for grabs."

Specifically, the paper highlights "issues on which [Bush] and the pope disagreed: the decision to go to war in Iraq, the death penalty and the West's responsibility, in the pope's view, to curb rampant consumerism and combat global poverty."

With Bush attaching himself to the pope story, it's important that reporters make sure the facts are out front as events unfold this week.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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