The New York Democratic primary is coming up Tuesday, so over the weekend Bernie Sanders naturally decided it was the perfect time to go and shore up his Vatican constituency support with a visit to the Holy See and a tête-à-tête meeting with the pontiff.
Never mind that the state of New York is a must-win for the leftist leaning Sanders, who has been slipping in the polls against his competitor and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton (and had a rather lackluster showing at the last debate against her), or that the venerable senator from Vermont is actually Jewish.
Sanders said he felt “it was important” to meet with the Catholic leader to show their common commitment to eradicating poverty and defending the defenseless.
And forget the fact that Sanders was not even invited by the pope or the Vatican to make the weekend courtesy call. He was simply asked by an episcopal think tank called the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to address a conference on social, economic and environmental issues (all issues which are, granted, key to his political platform), and somehow decided that when in Rome…
So maybe Sanders wanted the pope’s blessing for his waning presidential campaign, or thought he could rally Catholic voters to his corner if he kissed Francis’ ring.
Or maybe it was just a flagrant attempt by Sanders to align his social democratic politics with the moral preachings of Pope Francis.
All of which begs the question: Is Sanders running for the office of president of the United States or religious messiah?
And yet, there is, despite the rather obvious incongruences of Sanders’ trek to the Vatican, some method to his apparent madness.
Even though Sanders and the pope hold radically different views on issues such as abortion and gay rights, they do share common ground on matters of the environment and the abolition of economic inequality.
Indeed, they both share contempt for idolatry to the All Mighty Dollar.
The fact that Clinton spent the weekend raising money for her campaign at a lavish $60,000-a-plate dinner hosted by Hollywood royalty George Clooney and his wife Amal does make for some rather uncomfortable optic comparisons and clearly brings home Sanders’ claim that Hillary is a big-money patsy.
Also, Sanders got plenty of media coverage for his 36-hour jaunt to St. Peter’s Square, and in politics, coverage is coverage, no matter how controversial (see Donald Trump).
His trip to the Vatican certainly put Sanders front and center in the global spotlight.
By the same token, the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Rhode Island — which are still up for grabs in the primaries — all have large working-class Catholic populations who might have otherwise been leery of the idea of a Brooklyn Jew living in the White House.
A nod from Francis, no matter how tepid, might just go a long way to dispel those concerns.
Finally, the airwaves in the United States are saturated with campaign ads that have become so ubiquitous that most viewers simply drown them out along with Viagra commercials and Cheerios advertisements.
If nothing else, Sanders’ odyssey to the heart of Catholicism captured his constituents’ and potential constituents’ attention in a new and more engaging way.
Maybe Bernie’s weekend was not so sophomoric after all.