The Briefing 08-06-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 6, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Fox News Republican candidate debate first major debate of 2016 presidential race
Election Day 2016 is still about 15 months off but the presidential election is now in full gear. Tonight Fox News will sponsor the first major presidential debate as we head into the primary and caucus season. It’s going to be a debate amongst Republican candidates. In particular, ten of the 17 declared candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
The moderators for the event will come from Fox News, they will be Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. And there will be 10 Republican candidates on the stage. They will include businessman and media figure Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired doctor, a neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie, and the Gov. of Ohio John Kasich. If that’s a lot to say just in terms of listing the 10 of 17 candidates that will be on the stage tonight, just imagine what the event is likely actually to be in terms of an exchange of ideas.
That exchange is likely to be limited, but that does not mean it will not be important. In all likelihood it will be. That’s because the so-called debates (and I say so-called because they generally do not follow the traditional historic form of debate you think of in terms of for instance the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates), but they are nonetheless exchanges of ideas in a very high-tech media environment and a very contested political environment. Several things you should keep in mind:
First of all, this debate tonight will be a media event. It is being hosted by Fox News. Fox News is looking not only for an exchange of ideas among the 10 candidates on the stage, but also to attract viewers to the entire political process. For the entire media empire a presidential election is a golden opportunity. As a matter of fact, it is an opportunity that simply cannot be missed. The candidates will be hoping to score big tonight, but so will Fox News.There’s a very important media angle to this, and as we see the presidential campaign continue you’re going to see various forms of media and various media outlets vying for the kind of attention that Americans will give not only with their interest but with their ears and their eyeballs.
Secondly, you need to keep in mind that this is a very early event. We are 15 months, almost, out from election day 2016. A lot will take place between now and next November. But even as this is an early event we need to remember the early events really matter. That’s why there is outside consequence to the caucuses held in Iowa and to the early primaries in states such as New Hampshire. We’re looking at a reality in which you have 17 declared Republican candidates. In a fairly short process there will be some winnowing of those candidates because the money behind the campaigns and the energy behind the campaigns will eventually go where there appears to be political momentum and the opportunity for eventually gaining the nomination.
Third, as you’re watching this debate tonight keep in mind that it’s a very risky event. There is more likelihood that someone will hurt themselves in this debate than that they will gain significant stature in terms of the presidential nomination process. This is a very risky endeavor for the candidates, but it’s a risk they can’t avoid. As a matter of fact the seven Republican declared candidates who didn’t make it into this 10 person debate now find themselves at a decided disadvantage. In terms of the risk of these debates keep in mind the fact that more candidates had been hurt by how they responded to a question or to a statement from another candidate in one of these debates then have generally been helped in terms of gaining momentum. There are exceptions to this rule, for example in the 1980 campaign Ronald Reagan really did gain momentum in a famed appearance in a New Hampshire debate before that state’s primary during that Republican primary season.
In all of these events there is always the danger of risk. Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign hurt herself in a debate with then Sen. Barack Obama. Similarly, four years ago on the Republican side it was then Texas Gov. Rick Perry who also made a mistake in a debate that led to the eventual collapse of his campaign during that season. So the bottom line is that as we watch the debate you’re going to see candidates who are trying to score points for themselves and against each other. But more than anything else they’re trying not to say something that will be perceived as a mistake. They don’t want to say anything stupid. They don’t want to say anything wrong. They don’t want to say anything that becomes that soundbite from the debate being held tonight.
That gets to the fourth point; this is going to be a soundbite event. Every major political event now is basically a soundbite event. We’re not going back to the multi-hour format of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the middle the 19th century. Instead what we’re looking at now is two hours that will be interrupted with any number of things with 10 candidates on the stage. So you do the math and any one of them is not going to get a great deal of time to make some kind of major political manifesto. Instead what we’re going to see is the dynamism that takes place in the age of new media technology, when you also see the attention span of the American people reflected in the fact that they want very short and concise soundbites (as they are now known) rather than long speeches. And that’s what they’re going to get tonight. Unavoidably, just given the math and given the timing.
Another issue of volatility in terms of the risk and the soundbite nature is the fact that Donald Trump is right now leading the Republican polls and is going into this particular debate as the one person everyone sees as most volatile. And furthermore, most provocative. But you can count on the fact that every one of these candidates is being prepped by campaign staffers in an effort to try to come up with ‘that line’ that will be remembered in terms of a positive nature from the event tonight. You’re going to see candidates are going to try to have a moment like Pres. Reagan had when he ran for that office in 1980 against Pres. Jimmy Carter when he said, “There you go again!” Those few words became almost emblematic of the 1980 presidential campaign. And those words came out of a presidential debate.
This is of course – fifth – a very contested event this is a competitive sport. Indeed it’s almost a blood sport when it comes to American politics. There will be inevitably winners and losers and there is an enormous spin machine (as is known) behind every one of these candidates and furthermore behind the entire political process and everyone who was involved. But especially when it comes these candidates, there will be people - and we are now warned - that these candidates are going to have campaigns that are going to be instantly reporting and responding and spinning when it comes not only to what set in the mainstream media, but perhaps even more urgently, what appears in social media. In particular, on Twitter where all the campaigns will be active hoping to score points for their candidates within seconds of any positive statement and then to try to spin the remarks made by other candidates in a more negative light. It’s going to be very interesting. Social media now adds an entire new dimension, in one sense reducing the soundbite even further. We’ve gone from several hours of debate in the middle the 19th century to just a matter of minutes and soundbites of seconds and now, let’s face it, in many ways America’s political discourse is being reduced to 140 characters on Twitter.
Sixth, and finally this - we must keep in mind - a Republican event there will be no Democrats on the stage tonight. And that leads to a very important consideration not only the fact that we’re really talking here about the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. We’re not talking about the general election. But when it comes to the issues being debated and the points of view the worldviews reflected on the stage tonight, we need to keep in mind that this is nothing like the stature of the chasm that will separate the two candidates once the two parties have actually reached the point of nominating a candidate for the general election. That’s to say this debate going to be interesting. But it will not be nearly as interesting as the debate between the two nominees that will come much later. That’s to say that the range of views and worldview reflected on the stage tonight will be much tighter, much smaller, than what will appear between the two eventual candidates for the Republican and Democratic parties when we come to the general election next year.
Nevertheless, there will be plenty of material for us to consider tonight and to consider in terms of its worldview implications. We’re going to hear from candidates and under the pressure of the debate tonight they’re going to have to say what they believe and what they propose and what they are about. But it’s more than just positions and worldview that will become more and more clear as we go through this campaign. It is also personality and character and those are also very much inseparable from the task of leadership. They are essential to it.
So as Christians watch any kind of event like this, including the debate tonight, we need to keep in mind that what we’re watching is a conflict of worldviews that is underlying all that goes on in terms of policies and potential statements being made by these candidates. Their responses to questions aren’t going to come just from a script. They’re going to be coming from a worldview. And it’s very important that we come to understand what that worldview is. We also just need to remember that as Christians we have an unavoidable responsibility and investment in this process. And as Christians, especially as Christian parents, this is a great opportunity to watch an event like this with our children and there will be many others will come along this campaign season in order to hear together, watch together, and then discuss together. It will be a brilliant and important opportunity for worldview analysis, and a great training opportunity for parents with children, or for Christians gathered together, watching it in order to understand not only what’s happening but what it means.
Jon Stewart's final show reminder of legacy and influence of comedy news
Next, in terms of the media, another event of note tonight. Tonight will be the last appearance of Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. A program he took over in the year 1999. So for about 16 years Jon Stewart is been a part of the American media and the American political context, as he is had an outsized influence through his program on Comedy Central. That really gets to a very important set of issues for Christians to consider. In the first place let’s remind ourselves we’re talking about a program on Comedy Central. This was a program that predated Jon Stewart, although Jon Stewart took it to its heights with well over 1 million viewers a night. Jon Stewart is first and foremost a comedian. But he also has a worldview that continually comes through. He is very liberal when it comes to his political opinions, and even though he has skewered people in both parties and from all worldviews, there is no doubt that he has attempted rather successfully to use his position, his comedy, and his influence to move America significantly to the left.
We also need to keep in mind he has been particularly popular amongst younger Americans. Studies that have been undertaken in recent years have indicated - and this is a matter of grave concern - that a considerable number of young Americans consider comedy news programs as their primary arena for gathering news and information and analysis. And we need to keep in mind that this is another sign of the trivialization of the American mind. Not just throwing younger Americans under the bus on this, the fact is that older Americans have also gravitated in many ways to news programs that are actually more akin to entertainment. Albeit a rather different form of entertainment then Jon Stewart has offered for the last 16 years on The Daily Show. Jon Stewart is symbolic of a major change in American life. It’s not only that he came to such influence during a crucial period of American history, but it’s also that he became the progenitor for many others that have followed his example. Not only in terms of Stephen Colbert who eventually had a spinoff program from The Daily Show, but also others including the fact that comedians like John Oliver (now also with their own cable programs), have an outsized influence in American politics also pushing towards the left.
Earlier this week talking about the fact that Hollywood is addicted to writing and producing and releasing R-rated comedies even when the public are not buying them, the reality is that there has also been when it comes to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show a continual pressing of the boundaries. And there has been a coarsening of America’s political discourse. Jon Stewart’s not solely responsible for this, but he’s been a major figure in it by any measure. As noted by the fact that so many people on the left are already signaling how much they’re going to miss him.
But as I was talking about Hollywood I made the point that from a Christian biblical worldview we come to understand that what makes us laugh is actually quite a reflection of us. And we also come to understand the power of humor, and the power of comedy. The discovery of that power’s not new, but it is been newly exaggerated and amplified in terms of the modern media environment.
By any measure Jon Stewart is a very gifted comedian. He can be a very funny man. I have to say that even as he skewered me twice at least on his program, when I saw the clips I actually laughed at what he was saying about me. Jon Stewart’s retirement after almost 16 years at the helm of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show is something that ought to have our attention because it reminds us of how the culture has changed. And how the culture is always changing. It reminds us, once again, of the power of humor to do good and to do evil. It reminds us of the power of all these forms of media to communicate especially in the leading edges of these new media towards ever younger people in terms the demographic. That’s another interesting thing to note here. Jon Stewart’s been at this for 16 years. And that means that in terms of the contemporary demographic he is already old. John Koblin of the New York Times points out that as Stewart leaves this comedy chair he is leaving with the viewership of his program at the lowest since 2005. However, keep in mind that does represent a total viewership of about 1.35 million. The point is, however, that he has been falling behind amongst the younger demographic. The people who were young when he began aren’t quite so young anymore. And those who are young now are looking to someone other than Jon Stewart for what comes next. And what comes next almost assuredly push the boundaries even further from where they are when Jon Stewart leaves his chair on The Daily Show tonight.
Planned Parenthood presentation of abortion as minor part of services debunked by Slate
Next, in the middle of the Planned Parenthood controversy with the release of yet another video from the Center for Medical Progress, a very important article appeared at Slate.com. And one of the most important issues about this article is that it appeared at Slate.com. The article by Rachael Larimore goes at one of the chief points being made by the defenders of Planned Parenthood. They come back again and again saying that only 3% of the business of Planned Parenthood has to do with abortion. As she writes,
“It might not be a technically incorrect number, but it is meaningless—to the point of being downright silly— for several reasons. Not the least of which being that Planned Parenthood “unbundles” all of its services so that a pack of pills, an STD test and an exam are three separate services.”
She goes on to say that it is a fallacy, and it’s a fallacy that is known to be a fallacy that is trumpeted in the media when Planned Parenthood says that only 3% of its operations are related to abortion. As Larimore makes clear, when it comes to revenue that is not at all the picture. She writes,
“It’s impossible to know how much money Planned Parenthood brings in for abortion. Because as specific as the annual report is about the number of services it provides, it’s far less detailed when talking about where its revenue comes from… it’s easy to calculate[nonetheless], as the Weekly Standard did, that Planned Parenthood gets at least a third of its clinic income—and more than 10 percent of all its revenue, government funding included—from its abortion procedures.”
As I said, one of the most important aspects of this article is not just that the article appeared but where the article appeared. Slate.com has been a stalwart defender of Planned Parenthood and of abortion rights. But this to the tribute of that organization demonstrates a point of great honesty that’s missing from most in the media. Here, Rachael Larimore writing at Slate points out that at least 10% of the total revenue from Planned Parenthood – including the over half billion dollars of tax money - is actually coming directly from abortion. So let’s put the matter clearly, as Larimore and the Weekly Standard also have helped us to do.
We’re looking at the fact that the 3% figure is both meaningless, and we have Larimore saying silly. But more than that it’s insidious. It’s downright evil. Because it masks the fact that it is an enormous revenue stream for Planned Parenthood when it comes to abortion. Abortion makes money. It pays their salaries. And you have the tearing apart of human infants in the womb as a major part of their business model. The other figures are just simply misleading.
Larimore actually suggests that abortion brings in about 30% or a third indeed of the revenue of Planned Parenthood. She concludes her article with these words,
“Ask anyone who runs a for-profit business or nonprofit charity if something that brings in one-third of their revenue is “central” to their endeavor, and the answer is likely to be yes. So yes, abortion is central to what Planned Parenthood does.”
Oh, again to her credit, she also notes something else. In the year covered by this report Planned Parenthood reported 334,000 abortions – that’s for 2011. That same year they reported only 2,300 referrals to adoption agency. It’s never really been a secret that for Planned Parenthood abortion is always been central to the revenue stream. But even more evil is the fact that abortion is always been central to that organization’s worldview.
70th anniversary of Hiroshima bomb somber token of the horror of nuclear weapons
Finally, with all the things happening today we also need to reflect and the Christian conscience must reflect on the fact that today marks a very important 70th anniversary. It was 70 years ago today that a B-29 bomber flew over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and drop the bomb known as Little Boy, a uranium-based bomb, that detonated as the first use of a nuclear weapon killing between 90 and 166 thousand people. That was followed just three days later with a second bomb that exploded over the city of Nagasaki. It was a plutonium-based bomb that exploded on August 9, 1945 killing between 40 and 80 thousand people. Now, when you look at the fact that the use of nuclear weapons thus far has been limited to those two bombs, that’s one of the miracles of the modern world. And we should thank God for that.
But we all live in the specter of the shadow of the bomb and the discussion, rightly urgent on the question of this agreement that President Obama has made with Iran, brings again to the forefront the horror of nuclear weapons. Now for a long time that is been debated as to whether or not the United States was justified in dropping these two atomic bombs. The most important thing we can say in summary is that there is no right answer to that question that comes with any kind of simplistic calculus. By the time the bombs were used American and its allied forces were losing thousands of lives every single week in terms of the Pacific theater. The likely invasion of the Japanese homeland would’ve brought about hundreds of thousands of deaths both in terms of the allies and the Japanese by any reasonable calculation. The argument for the use of nuclear bombs in this case is rooted in the fact that the bombs almost assuredly save lives in terms of avoiding the continuation of the war into what would have become its even darkest hour in terms of the prolonged invasion of the Japanese homeland.
All my life I have known men as friends who almost assuredly are alive today precisely because that war ended, not months later, but in terms of August 15 of 1945. Only after the detonation of those two bombs over Japanese cities. The argument against the use of atomic weapons however is also very compelling, especially to Christians because the just war theory by which Christians have understood the morality of war for centuries, an indispensable understanding of Christian ethics, has made very clear as one of its central issues that there is no moral charge for the intentional killing of civilians. The limitation of intentional use of deadly force against combatants has been central to the Christian worldview’s understanding of the just means of conducting war. But a couple of quick observations.
In the first place we now live under the shadow of weapons that are thousands of times more deadly than the bombs that exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The second thing we need to note is that even as there are calls for eliminating nuclear weapons (and we must certainly hope that all efforts are taken to limit their proliferation and to keep them from ever being used), the reality is and the Christian worldview reminds us of this that when the knowledge and technology are developed by which these bombs came to be, there is no way that human beings can just intentionally forget what we know. That technology will always exist in terms of an intellectual reality, whether or not there are bombs. But you can also count that in a fallen world there will be bombs. Someone will have these bombs. Even though the system of mutual assured destruction that marked the Cold War has been criticized, the reality is that no nuclear weapon has been used in the last 70 years. And that is by any measure very good news for which we should be very thankful.
There’s been too little attention to this anniversary in the international media and especially in United States on the 70th anniversary. But those who are Christians thinking from a Christian worldview must not ignore this anniversary and its meaning. And the great questions it raises, and the fact that in light of the fact we are still living in the shadow the bomb, we are reminded of how Scripture ends and we end there as well. Even so, Lord, come quickly.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.