In the 1980s, the world had the leadership of a triumvirate- Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Their message was simple and straightforward: dignity of the self through adherence to principles through work ethic and larger social interaction. It was a positive ideology that promulgated cohesion and understanding. But it did not shy away from division. Those agents whose actions were a threat, namely the Soviets, were condemned in the strongest possible terms.
Fast forward roughly four decades and this worldview has been wholly turned on its ear. Now the leader of the free world and the pope unite with communist dictators instead of spurning them. It is the people- the dissidents who are subject to oppression and brutality for doing nothing more than exercising their God-given right to try and order their lives as they see fit- who are ignored.
During South African apartheid, Reagan, who understood the power of discrimination in the markets as a foreign policy tool, opposed an embargo on the nation because the people, fearing it would only hurt their welfare and thus their ability to affect political change, asked him not to. Imagine that- the most powerful man in the world complying with the moralistic pleas of a people who were not even his constituents.
In contrast, Obama and Pope Francis, whose denunciations of capitalism all too closely mirror the “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” rhetoric responsible for the deaths of so many, ignore the cries of the Cuban people. In orchestrating the end of the embargo and the normalization of relations, the pope and Obama have cited a desire to aid the poor and disenfranchised, yet Francis met with Castro, not dissidents, during his trip to Cuba. During the trip the Holy Father spoke of service not having its roots in ideology but in people. This was apparently not a sentiment shared by the Cuban police, who turned dissidents away from the services Francis celebrated.
Now, as the pope comes to America, politics loom large. An ideology that attacks business as deleterious to the poor and to the environment unites the leaders of the American and the Vatican. And while Francis may descry his aims as political, Obama certainly has a different goal in mind. He will greet the pope with a cadre of individuals whose ideas are directly at odds with Catholic doctrine, a move which has caused Vatican officials to express concern that imaging will make it appear as if the Church endorses positions like same-sex marriage.
Ideology is not a bad word. Equal justice, individual responsibility and the free flow of information are ideas. Their merit lies in the positive effects they have on all people. But their is a difference between classically liberal ideologies that take strong stances but allow for others to follow their consciences and fascism.
When Reagan, whom no one would have accused of being soft on despotism, deferred to the wishes of South Africans he was behaving like a true liberal leader aware of the power he wielded. When Obama and Francis speak of helping the poor and oppressed yet meet with those who are doing the oppressing and ignore the voices of those poor in spirit and goods, they betray the liberal populist ideology they are supposed to lead.