If you were to ask me to name the two world leaders I find most authentically conservative, it would be Pope Francis and President Obama.
Conservative? I suppose you do have to define terms a bit to make this one stick.
By conservative I mean one who tries to use the power and privilege of office to return the structures he or she serves to their founding principles and to the current desires of those who are now part of those structures.
A corollary of that is the conviction that what stands now no longer works.
There’s not much question about that in Washington. Our government just flat-out doesn’t work. The most obvious paradigm of that was seen when a gun background check proposal that was supported by 90 percent of the American people and a bipartisan majority of the Senate could not garner the votes it needed to break an imaginary filibuster.
And the response of the power structure, the political power structure, and the power structure of the media – symbolized in this case by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd -- was to blame President Obama for being weak and for not inviting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over for drinks.
Would that have helped? Who knows. One thing is certain: If 90 percent of the public wants something to happen and it doesn’t happen because the political leaders at the top are more interested in other powers, then something is wrong.
What is interesting to me, though, is that Obama is getting a lot done. Since he has been president, the nation has instituted a new health insurance law, saved itself from a major recession, reconstituted the domestic auto industry, made mind-boggling strides in the acceptance of gay and lesbian people . .. .the list could keep going – but no one cares.
The daily headlines are based on sports. Yesterday’s victory is irrelevant. What counts is today’s game and the players are always the president on one side and Congress, or the National Rifle Association, or, you name it, on the other.
Obama’s game – and this is why I call him a “conservative” – is to make the battle between the American people and those with entrenched power who refuse to work on behalf of that people.
He may not win, but the first step toward change is recognizing the problem and, today, the problem is that Washington leaders have no clothes.
Pope Francis is, to me, an interesting comparison.
He, too, leads an institution that has major problems at the top. The church is defined in many ways by opulent prelates who go to great lengths to protect their power and privileges even as the people they purport to serve find themselves ignored and betrayed.
The Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy and Francis can’t change it by rallying the people in opposition to Rome. But he can – and is – changing the definition of the hierarchy. He keeps telling his leaders to stop pontificating about how humble they are and to start being humble. If you’re a shepherd, he says, you should smell like sheep.
He, too, is finding himself second-guessed by liberals – who want him to crack down on the conservatives who have run the church since the election of Pope John Paul II -- and conservatives, who want him to crack down down on anyone who isn’t them.
These two are battling entrenched power and victory is certainly not a success. But they are the two most interesting and most conservative leaders of our time.