The media was primed for a kumbaya moment as Pope Francis spoke to Congress on Thursday.
Media discussion was rife with references to forgiveness, mercy and hope and the notion that the pope’s appearance might have a tangible impact on American politics.
Mike Barnicle, an MSNBC commentator and longtime Boston media stalwart, suggested he could have a “calming effect on the tenor of politics.”
On CNN, there was talk about the pope’s themes of peace and forgiveness. Correspondent Jim Sciutto said the speech would be a “gentle nudge” and a push on controversial issues like immigration, abortion and the refugee crisis in Europe.
Inevitably, the pope Fiat 500L was invoked as an important symbol “befitting this people’s pope,” said Wolf Blitzer as the car approached the Capitol.
It arrived at a pivotal time “given the dramatic political climate we live in,” said Christiane Amanpour, in part alluding to the frictions of American politics.
Inside, Francis had an initial meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, a practicing Catholic who had invited him to speak to the joint session of the House and Senate. Boehner looked so obviously nervous as the pope entered his suite of offices.
But a man given to the teary — CBC correspondent Nancy Cordes noted how Boehner has even cried during a Golf Channel interview once — appeared to stay dry-eyed during what NBC’s Maria Shriver, one of the major league Catholics beckoned for expertise, said was a a “huge personal moment” for Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden, another Catholic. Boehner and Biden would sit behind Francis during his address.
So there was Boehner, himself a symbol of the division of American politics that frustrates most citizens, with a pope who would urge Congress to move toward conciliation in dealing with a raft of problems.
It perhaps was reflection of the untidy, raucous realities of Congress that much of the pre-speech punditry underscored Boehner’s urgings that everybody in the House chamber be on their best behavior. The notion that more than 500 adult elected officials had to be told, as if school children, to not act like scowling, jeering jerks was itself a depressing commentary on the political state of play.
But even if dutifully courteous, would the assembled act on the pope’s words?
If you suspected they would not, you could just watch Fox News’ pre-speech coverage mention tricky issues related to pending abortion legislation on the Hill. There is little middle ground.
Then, Fox segued back to the presidential campaign and a new Fox poll that shows Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio moving up on Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
More notably, given the big speech, it also shows the vast majority of Americans “feel betrayed by politicians in their own party,” Fox noted.
So what would really happen after this historic moment with the pope? What happens after the kumbaya feelings perhaps dissipate?
It just might be wishful thinking to suggest much positive.
While the pope planned to feed the homeless after the speech at a Catholic service agency, many of the political luminaries were invited to a fancy lunch.
It seems more their style.