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Mar 18, 201309:52 AM
The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

Pope Francis: Learning from Jimmy Carter

On his first full day on the job last week Pope Francis, according to media reports, went to the hotel where he was staying, packed his luggage, checked out and then climbed into a Volkswagen, rather than the papal limousine, for the trip back to the Vatican. Many people found that to be refreshingly humble. I thought about Jimmy Carter.

 

Carter was elected following the imploded presidency of Richard Nixon who, among other criticisms, many felt had become too imperial – having lost touch with the people. Carter wanted to change that image; he wanted to be just plain folk. We would see him climbing into Air Force One carrying his own suit bag and dressed in denim with a plaid shirt. It was interesting for public relations, but it backfired. Instead of showing the people that he wasn’t pompous, the voters became convinced that Carter wasn’t anything special. Significantly, Carter would be defeated in his first term by Ronald Reagan, a former actor who was skilled at being both folksy and regal.

 

Truth is people may want a touch of simplicity in their leaders, but they also want majesty. In his biography on Huey Long, historian T. Harry Williams told about the former governor being on the campaign trail in rural north Louisiana and pulling off a shoe to reveal a hole in his sock. He wanted to show the voters that he was poor just like them. Williams, however, pointed out, that at the same time Long always wore a diamond-studded tie pin to make it clear that he was above the people, too.

 

Imagine if the papal conclave had been different. What if instead of the Cardinals, in their magnificent robes and hats, entering the Sistine chapel with the paintings of Michelangelo above, they would have worn business suits and done their voting in a meeting room at the Rome Hilton? What if the agenda had consisted of a report from the nominations committee and then verification of the recommendation? What if the announcement would have been preceded by press releases rather than white smoke? Would we have been as interested in the outcome?

 

Vatican tradition has created good theater. The curia learned long ago that a bright star gathers the attention of the flock more effectively than a gray sky.

 

We wish the new pope well, especially in his mission of bringing relief to the world’s poor. In doing so, he will have to remember that no matter how humble his messsage may be, it is the grandeur that will draw attention to it.

 

Illustration courtesy of Marian Kamensky of Vienna, Austria (www.humor-kamensky.sk)

 

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde

about

Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or errol@myneworleans.com.

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