ere minutes after white smoke rose from the Vatican signaling the papal election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, American politicians and pundits rushed to offer their take on the new pope.
In tweets, press releases, and news conferences, partisans from both sides offered generally positive remarks about Bergoglio, who will reign as Pope Francis. But their praise differed in significant ways, in a subtle bid to spin the event in favor of their respective politics.
President Barack Obama was one of the first to release a formal statement on the election, praising Francis for his commitment to aiding the poor and needy. For Obama, who won re-election on a platform geared toward the lower and middle classes, that message doubled as a subtle reminder of the economic policies he's vowed to pursue in his second term.
“As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years — that in each other, we see the face of God,” Obama said in a statement.
Likewise, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) highlighted Pope Francis' work with the needy. In a press release, she hailed the new pope as a "compassionate leader for the poor, a champion of the least fortunate."
Other Democrats reacted to the news by saying they were hopeful the new pope would promote a more inclusive church, both on social issues and in terms of interfaith relations. On Twitter, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said he hoped Pope Francis would "[guide] the Catholic Church in a direction underscored by greater inclusion and equality in the world." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed that sentiment, saying he was "hopeful that Pope Francis will help foster peace and spirituality across the globe."
On other side of the aisle, prominent Republicans based their remarks more directly on religion, and on Pope Francis' socially conservative beliefs in particular.
"As a voice of clarity and force on the great moral challenges of our time, the pope plays a uniquely constructive role in world affairs," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
Pope Francis is known for his outspoken opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. In 2007, he equated abortion to the death penalty, while criticizing his native Argentina for pursuing more liberal social policies.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) used the announcement to criticize liberal economic policies and deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"Francis I will not be good news for the Chavismos in Latin America," he tweeted. "He has the proper understanding of how we are to care for the poor."
(Not to be outdone, Chavez's protege, Nicolas Maduro, suggested that Chavez had conferred with Jesus Christ in heaven, and convinced Him to choose a Latin American as pope.)
Political pundits also weighed in, though with less tempered statements.
Red State's Erick Erickson took a series of swipes at liberals following the announcement, faulting them for criticizing the Argentine Catholic Church's support of the country's brutal military dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s, and noting unproved accusations that Francis had been involved in the abduction of two leftist priests by the regime in 1976.
Lefties upset about the death squads in Argentina back in the day are all about death panels in the United States.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 13, 2013
That lefties are accusing the new pope of handing over lefties to the right wing junta for execution makes me adore the new pope.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 13, 2013
Those comments sparked condemnation from liberals on Twitter and in the media, with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, for one, saying such comments essentially amounted to praise not for Pope Francis, but for death squads.
Since I'm seeing conservatives celebrating Argentine military junta, should point out its human rights record far far far worse than Chavez— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 13, 2013
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