Republicans have grown inured to President Obama’s passive aggressive behavior. In nearly every speech and every appearance he takes the opportunity to subtly put down his political rivals, never sullying himself with headlong criticism, but gliding effortlessly above the fray with sideswipes, clearly thinking that he’s fulfilling his campaign promise to end “politics as usual.”
But now others are getting a taste. This week, oddly enough, it’s Pope Francis, who the president decided to teach an oblique lesson in acceptance during his first visit to the United States. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the White House decided to invite “transgender activists, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an activist nun who leads a group criticized by the Vatican for its silence on abortion and euthanasia.”
The guest list is an oddly deliberate jab at a pontiff who, more than any in recent memory, is sympathetic to many of Obama’s policy goals. Pope Francis has called for a “more incisive female presence in the Church,” he’s rebuked “trickle-down theories” of economics, he’s issued an edict calling for a “bold cultural revolution” to address climate change, and he’s guided the church towards a more open posture on LGBT issues. Nevertheless, President Obama takes the Holy See’s visit as an opportunity to provide a public, yet passive aggressive lecture to the leader of the world’s Catholics.
Perhaps you could argue that the White House has no reason to cater to beliefs that it doesn’t share. But, as the Washington Post’s editorial board makes painfully clear, that argument makes absolutely no sense in context:
What struck us as we read about this small controversy is the contrast between the administration’s apparent decision to risk a bit of rudeness in the case of the pope and its overwhelming deference to foreign dictators when similar issues arise. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Havana to reopen the U.S. Embassy recently, he painstakingly excluded from the guest list any democrat, dissident or member of civil society who might offend the Castro brothers.
And when Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to the White House next week, shortly after the pope leaves town, it’s a safe bet that he won’t have to risk being photographed with anyone of whom he disapproves. Chen Guangcheng, the courageous blind lawyer, for example, lives nearby in exile, but he probably won’t be at the state dinner. Neither will Falun Gong activists, democracy advocates or anyone else who might, well, give offense.
But why stop there? Why not mention President Obama’s decision to roll out the red carpet for Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who either murdered or jailed, nearly all of his political opponents. Or Obama’s utter silence during the stay of Angola’s president Jose Eduardo do Santos, who has amassed a massive fortune despite the crippling poverty of Angolans. Or Obama’s handshake with Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, who threatened to “cut off the head” of any homosexuals in the country and abducted hundreds of Gambians on charges of witchcraft.
Or the White House’s decision to invite Gabon’s president Ali Bongo to the White House despite what they admitted as a “less than sterling” humanitarian record. The United Nation’s estimates that the Bongo siphoned off 25 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, allowing them to purchase dozens of luxury homes, each worth millions of dollars. Notoriously, Ali Bongo’s wife was captured by a VH-1 show turning up her nose at a $25 million mansion saying that she needed “something really, big, really, really, really big.”
These are the kinds of thugs, criminals and crooks that the Obama White House saw fit to invite in the name of expanding business opportunities or reinforcing national security interests. But are they deserving of a different, less exacting standard? Must we coddle our clear enemies, but constantly chide our steadfast friends? Perhaps. But in this case, where Catholics are simply living their deep-seeded faith, why must the president take it as an opportunity to publicly give offense?
The only answer that comes to mind is that Obama simply can’t help himself. He’s a lecturer at heart. Even if it’s delivered through passive aggressive silence.