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A Hail Mary pass, Karl Rove

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It was 1962, and it seemed that the portiere at the residence where I was living was the only person in Rome who wasn't happy with the jovial Pope John XXIII. "I detest Il P├pa," Gennaro would hiss in a manner that invited us to ask why. Furtively and sotto voce, the doorman would explain himself.

The story told by Gennaro goes back to the Italian election of 1948. A Christian Democrat with Fascist sympathies, Gennaro was in despair as the polls indicated that the Communists would sweep into power. Then, just days before the election, members of a Roman construction crew reported that they had had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The workers had heard the Mother of Jesus warning them to vote for the Christian Democrats, lest they jeopardize their eternal salvation.

Word of that heavenly vision spread like a contagion, and it came as no surprise that the Christian Democrats subsequently won the election. For the next dozen years, right-wing, crypto-Fascists like Gennaro made regular pilgrimages to the construction site, collected vials of dirt deemed sacred and contributed to the building of what would be a great church to honor the Blessed Virgin's intervention.

The basilica plan was a glorious dream""only to be spoiled by Pope John XXIII. Shortly after his election in 1959, the peasant pope closed the pilgrimage site, forbade any cult of the supposed vision and halted the fundraising effort. He declared the whole affair a political hoax.

Gennaro's story came back to me during the 2004 presidential campaign as I watched Karl Rove maneuver his swiftboat attack on Kerry. It comes back to me again and again as I watch the Bush administration, under Rove's spell, gull the American public""using tax money to promote a supposed Medicare drug benefit; paying an African-American to circulate 'news' stories about the alleged success of the No Child Left Behind legislation; using employees of the Social Security Administration and funds of the Social Security Trust Administration to convince us that privatizing Social Security is the only way to divert it from a looming iceberg; playing on our fear of terrorism to squelch investigations of illegal wire-tapping and to elect 'patriotic' Republicans.

But Gennaro's story makes me think of grander schemes for Rove. Come on, Karl, go for a Hail Mary pass. Sure, you got a handful of Catholic bishops to suggest that candidate Kerry wasn't worthy of communion, and you convinced millions of right- wing religionists that God is a Republican. But why not go for the vision thing? With 15 percent of the electorate believing in 'the Rapture,' it shouldn't be hard to do. Surely, you can find a few stooges to report that they have seen the Blessed Virgin Mary and heard her caution fear of terrorists, of constitutional rights and civil liberties and of the undeserving poor?

What's holding you back? The annoying fact that Pope John Paul II couldn't be persuaded to bless your boss' war in Iraq? Never mind, John Paul II is no longer with us. With a little bit of luck, it could be a long time""at least until after November, 2006""before another Pope John XXIII exposes your fraud.

Go for the Hail Mary pass, Karl. Make Gennaro happy.
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James Parker has retired from careers as a professor of theology and as a public relations officer for a research institution.
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