Selfies, Pope Francis and Republicans' Way Forward

Margaret Carlson was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Nelson Mandela's funeral, Pope Francis and Republican messaging. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: We're going to need a bigger boat. I'm using a movie metaphor to describe what the South African government faces by having either a fake sign language interpreter flapping his arms around or one that was hallucinating steps away from many world leaders, including our own. It is kind of sweet the way everyone in the government has their own response. The junior minister for disabilities admitted the interpreter was not a true professional and apologized. The minister said, yes, mistakes were made, "but I don't think he was picked up from the street." Then the interpreter got into it, doing a little public relations for himself, admitting he has schizophrenia as if that would make the situation better.

Ramesh: The proliferation of conflicting and unconvincing excuses for government incompetence is a sign that South Africa is, indeed, a normal country now. It is a little sad, though, that the funeral marking the end of an interesting and momentous life is being remembered for selfies, handshakes and mistranslations.

Margaret: And flirting, don't forget the flirting, as in President Barack Obama with the Danish prime minister. Is this a case of too many reporters covering one story with only one angle? Nelson Mandela had a life so well lived that we can only imagine the character he possessed. I could have never forgiven my captors if I were in his situation since I hold a grudge every time I go to the DMV. How about House Speaker John Boehner finally popping off about right-wing conservative groups? He just isn't going to take it anymore from those lavishly funded groups going after his budget. What do they expect of him? The deal is darn good, and he's right that these groups are "ridiculous." Then he said the groups were "using the American people." I don't know what he meant by that but I totally agree.

Ramesh: His conservative critics can cite your agreement in their next anti-Boehner fundraising letter. This is Boehner's frustration talking, not his head. This isn't the way to sell this budget mini-deal. The concern that the future deficit reduction in the deal won't materialize isn't ridiculous, and conservatives on the fence about it aren't going to be persuaded by bluster. He should have kept his cool.

Margaret: People often get mad at the next thing instead of the one that deserved their anger. Boehner had to be furious about groups pushing Congress to take a stand on defunding Obamacare which led to shutting down the government. It was a sinkhole. He should have led then and he didn't. Now he's picking a bad fight. As far as picking goes, Time surely got a good one for its Man of the Year: Pope Francis.

Ramesh: Yes, I think so. The first rule of picking a person of the year, I assume, perhaps cynically, isn't to choose the person who has had the most influence over the course of events during the preceding twelve months. It's to choose someone who has a plausible claim to some influence and whose mug will sell copies of the issue. Pope Francis is a compelling story, partly because of his personal holiness and partly because what he's going to say next can't be predicted. As a Catholic, I hope all the attention to this pope will lead to some sympathetic interest in the Church. At least until there's another selfie in the news.

Margaret: The Pope is in a selfie-free zone. He cites the parts of the gospel that matter like "blessed are the poor" and "what you do to the least among us." I wonder if he's even going to give an interview as is the tradition. They do make exceptions, though. Hitler, for instance, wasn't interviewed. And there is always a huge uproar when a bad person is chosen. It's never quite convincing that Man of the Year isn't an honor but a reflection of who's had the most impact. I would have boycotted the issue if Bashar al-Assad was chosen. Before we go, to transition from the holy to the profane, do you think Boehner and company are going to learn to talk to women as a result of their tutorials? I'd settle for them at least learning not to insult them.

Ramesh: Most Republican candidates know not to say stupid things about rape, and the few who don't aren't going to change because of a tutorial. Beyond that sort of thing, I'm in a tiny minority in thinking that the enormous attention that politicians and journalists pay to the gender gap is unwarranted. Sex and age are two of the traits least predictive of someone's vote, so naturally we obsess about them. If Republicans get a better message, they'll do better among men and women -- and who cares if the gap stays the same? But instead Republicans seem to think that there's some special way they can learn to speak female. I hear there's an interpreter who might be looking for work soon.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Margaret Carlson at
Ramesh Ponnuru at