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Rush Limbaugh meant Groucho, not Karl Marx

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When Rush Limbaugh recently labeled Pope Francis’ statements on Catholic social justice “pure Marxism,” everyone jumped to the wrong conclusion.

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Surely Rush was not referring to Karl Marx – because a purely communist system of government entails a form of central planning and command control of the economy that were absent from the Pope’s critique of the unfettered market. And surely, one can criticize Reagan-era Supply Side “trickle down” economics without even being labeled a socialist.

Rush must have been speaking of that other great Marx of history, Groucho.

According to Groucho Marx,

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Wait a second. That is a perfect description of Limbaugh himself! He must have been channeling Groucho in some sort of ironic act of self-reflection.

Here’s what Rush Limbaugh has actually said about the poor:

“. . . [I]n many cases, speaking bluntly, the people that don't do well only have themselves to blame. And those who have no control over themselves are the ones we help."

And his thoughts on the social safety net designed to ameliorate poverty:

“The more dependent you are, the more ignorant you must be, and that's how they want you.”

Last month in an apostolic exhortation called the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis set forth a decidedly different view:

“[H]umanity is experiencing a turning point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time, we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity.

“Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “Thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.”

The Pope noted that is our duty to take care of those who are “defenseless before the interests of a deified market,” which includes the environment. It was in this context that the Pope registered his critique against “trickle-down theories” which have “never been confirmed by the facts” and express a “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.” He described this economic philosophy of what amounts to Social Darwinism as a “new tyranny.” And to counter it, he encouraged more vigorous social action:

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us."

"Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect, and promote the poor. I exhort you to a generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings."

This doesn’t sounds like Karl Marx. It sounds like Jesus “love thy neighbor/not by bread alone/give to the poor” Christ: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”

But not understanding that Rush was speaking about Groucho and not the Pontiff, Francis had to explain today that in his apostolic exhortation, he was not speaking "as a technician but according to the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and this does not mean being Marxist.” Indeed, “The ideology of Marxism is wrong.”

There was really no need for the Pope’s clarification. Rush Limbaugh just needed to take heed of another famous quote by Groucho Marx:

"It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

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