I struggled all weekend to find something distinctive to say about the life and legacy of Pope John Paul II, and have a hypothesis to offer. In the end, what Karol Wojtyla will be most remembered for is not his role in the end of the Cold War, or the formidable windbreak he built against the storms of doctrinal change initiated by the Second Vatican Council. His most important legacy, I surmise, may be as the key transitional figure in the transformation of Roman Catholicism specifically, and Christianity generally, from a “Western” tradition rooted in Europe to a truly global faith centered in the South rather than the North.This may seem counter-intuitive, since this Pope was himself pre-eminently European, with a faith and outlook shaped by the twentieth century’s struggles against European totalitarianism, and a life that personified the destruction of the divisions between Eastern and Western Europe. Moreover, he went a long way towards healing European Christianity’s most shameful historical disease, its murderous intolerance of religious minorities, most notably Jews.Yet nearly everything about the powerful and perhaps irreversible trajectory he set for the Church points South, to the Third World, and away from Europe and the United States. Many obituarists of this Pope have struggled to categorize him ideologically as “conservative” on faith and morals yet “liberal” or even “radical” on issues of globalization, poverty and war, even as they acknowledge the unity of his own thinking.But these are Eurocentric ways of looking at his teachings, which may confuse and distress American Catholics and what’s left of the faith in Europe, but make perfect sense to most Catholics in Africa, Latin America and Asia.A deeply illiberal approach to issues involving sexuality and gender; a rejection of capitalism as a necessary counterpart to democracy; and an abiding hostility to U.S.-European political, military, economic and cultural hegemony: this is a consistent point of view with strong support in the global South, among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Indeed, in many respects what John Paul II represented was a living link between the pre-modern traditions of European Catholicism and the post-modern realities of much of the rest of the world.And in that respect, John Paul II was following, not just leading, the faithful. As will be pointed out often during the next couple of weeks, there is now a Southern majority in the College of Cardinals that will elect this pope’s successor. Most of the Church’s growth is in the South, or among southern immigrants to the North (most notably the Latin American immigrants to the U.S.). John Paul II’s peripatetic travel was notable not just in its pace, but in its scope, especially in Latin America and Asia. And it’s no accident that the short list for the successor to the first non-Italian pope in half a millennium includes serious candidates from outside Europe for the first time ever.Sure, John Paul II clamped down on the “liberation theology” popular in some elements of the Latin American clergy, and reined in some of the more exuberant liturgical experiments underway in Africa (as well as in the U.S.). But such actions should be understood as steps to consolidate the South’s position in the universal church, not as efforts to impose European norms.This is, of course, just a hypothesis, and perhaps I am being unduly influenced by the North-South struggle underway in my own faith community, the Anglican Communion, where African and Asian bishops are headed rapidly down a path that may soon lead to the isolation and/or expulsion of their U.S. and Canadian brethren, with the Church of England itself probably next in line for punishment for its “modernist” heresies.But the case for John Paul II as the crucial figure in the Roman Church’s non-Roman, non-European, non-American future seems more compelling to me than a lot of the competing interpretations. And this possibility should especially give pause to the American conservatives, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and irreligious, who are outdoing each other this week in viewing this pope’s legacy through the lens of their own cultural and political obsessions. This pope’s opposition to “American exceptionalism” invariably embraced opposition to the death penalty, to capitalist triumphalism, and to George W. Bush’s unilateralist foreign policies, as well as to abortion or birth control or the removal of feeding tubes from the hopelessly dying.Many conservatives accuse John Paul II’s American flock of practicing a “Cafeteria Catholicism” of selective obedience to Rome. But the American Right, I would argue, is practicing “Cafeteria Conservatism”–an equally selective interpretation of this pope’s teachings and legacy, which lead not Right or Left but South.
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By Ed Kilgore
March 24: The Republican Case Against Medicaid Expansion Continues to Crumble
There’s another turn in a story we’ve all been following for over a decade, so I wrote it up at New York:
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law 13 years ago, and the Medicaid expansion that was central to the law still hasn’t been implemented in all 50 states. But we are seeing steady, if extremely slow, progress in the effort to give people who can’t afford private insurance but don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid access to crucial health services. The U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the ACA also made Medicaid expansion optional for states. Twenty-four states accepted the expansion when it became fully available at the beginning of 2014, and that number has steadily expanded, with the most recent burst of forward momentum coming from ballot initiatives in red states like Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. Now a 40th state is in the process of climbing on board: North Carolina. As the Associated Press reports, legislation is finally headed toward the desk of Governor Roy Cooper:
“A Medicaid expansion deal in North Carolina received final legislative approval on Thursday, capping a decade of debate over whether the closely politically divided state should accept the federal government’s coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults. …
“When Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a longtime expansion advocate, signs the bill, it should leave 10 states in the U.S. that haven’t adopted expansion. North Carolina has 2.9 million enrollees in traditional Medicaid coverage. Advocates have estimated that expansion could help 600,000 adults.”
So what changed? Basically, over time the fiscal arguments North Carolina Republicans used to oppose the expansion began sounding increasingly ridiculous, AP suggests:
“GOP legislators passed a law in 2013 specifically preventing a governor’s administration from seeking expansion without express approval by the General Assembly. But interest in expansion grew over the past year as lawmakers concluded that Congress was neither likely to repeal the law nor raise the low 10% state match that coverage requires.
“A financial sweetener contained in a COVID-19 recovery law means North Carolina also would get an estimated extra $1.75 billion in cash over two years if it expands Medicaid. Legislators hope to use much of that money on mental health services.”
In other words, the GOP Cassandras warning that the wily Democrats would cut funding for the expansion in Congress once states were hooked turned out to be absolutely wrong. Indeed, the very sweet deal offered in the original legislation got even sweeter thanks to the above-mentioned COVID legislation. States like North Carolina appeared to be leaving very good money on the table for no apparent reason other than partisanship, seasoned with some conservative hostility toward potential beneficiaries. In this case, GOP legislators finally reversed course without much excuse-making. The AP reports:
“A turning point came last May when Senate leader Phil Berger, a longtime expansion opponent, publicly explained his reversal, which was based largely on fiscal terms.
“In a news conference, Berger also described the situation faced by a single mother who didn’t make enough money to cover insurance for both her and her children, which he said meant that she would either end up in the emergency room or not get care. Expansion covers people who make too much money for conventional Medicaid but not enough to benefit from heavily subsidized private insurance.
“’We need coverage in North Carolina for the working poor,’ Berger said at the time.”
That, of course, has been true all along. Final legislative approval of the expansion was delayed for a while due to an unrelated dispute over health-facility regulations. And the expansion cannot proceed until a state budget is passed. But it’s finally looking good for Medicaid expansion in a place where Democrats and Republicans are bitterly at odds on a wide range of issues.
There remain ten states that have not yet expanded Medicaid; eight are Republican “trifecta” states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming) and two others have Republican-controlled legislatures (Kansas and Wisconsin). Perhaps the peculiar mix of stupidity and malice that keeps state lawmakers from using the money made available to them by Washington to help their own people will abate elsewhere soon.