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Lawmakers enlist powerful new wage and wealth gap warrior - the Pope


“Let us leave a spare place at our table: a place for those who lack the basics, who are alone.”  - Pope Francis via Twitter January 7, 2014  

In three short phrases, Pope Francis has once again taken the lead in advocating for economic justice and fairness. Where not long ago a battle raged over the growing and disproportionate wealth of the so-called “one percent,” the new 77-year old leader of the Catholic church has gained more support in nine months than the Occupy Wall Street movement or Fast Food Forward have in five years.

This new found papal popularity is not going unnoticed, especially in Washington, where  lawmakers - particularly Democrats - are eager to find fresh support for their core causes but also to counter their own lofty disapproval ratings. As my colleague Jeff Macke and I discuss in the attached video, the politicization of the Pope is real and cannot be ignored. 

“It is not a surprise that the left and the right are now seeking openly to affiliate with this Pope,” Macke says, fresh from his own eye-opening trip to the Vatican. 

In fact, a recent New York Times article quotes Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as saying “We have a strong ally on our side,” in reference to a raft of policy efforts in the works that coincide with the writings and teachings Pope Francis espouses.

Of course, his Holiness has numerous advantages over his elected counterparts when it comes to addressing issues such as income inequality or raising the minimum wage.   Some would argue that as a foreign head of state representing a billion people (90% of which are not American), the Pope should not intercede in the U.S. political process. And yet, when the Pope includes the following four sub-titles in his most recent Exhortation, few dared to criticize his stance:

No to an economy of exclusion
No to the idolatry of money
No to a financial system that rules rather than serves
No to the inequality which spawns violence

Even mainstream theories have been addressed in his short Papacy where he blasts “trickle-down economics” as being a factually unconfirmed belief. “This opinion,” the Pope writes, “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” adding that “the excluded are still waiting.”

It’s important to note that all of this is happening at the exact time that the country is being forced to reconcile the fact that the original “War on Poverty” declared by President Johnson in 1964, is turning fifty, but that there’s still a lot more work to do. The White House has already tagged job creation and better wages as key areas of focus for the mid-term, and will surely give both prominent play in the upcoming State of the Union address.

To be sure, Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” is clearly popular and politicians of all persuasions are as eager to side with him as they are reluctant to stand against him, but it has yet to be seen if his message results in any actual legislative action.

Disclaimer: Merrill Lynch is not responsible for the editorial content of this program.

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