The Briefing 10-24-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, October 24, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Hillary finds enthusiastic support in the media for her unblinking defense of late-term abortion
The third presidential debate is now a matter of history, and not only that, it was several days ago. That makes what’s so important right now the news coverage after that third debate. And what’s most important about the news coverage is what it tells us about the conflict of visions, the deep conflict of worldviews in the United States, something that is far more fundamental, long-lasting, and far more important than the presidential election itself.
What’s apparent in the New York Times in its reporting on the third debate is its enthusiasm about the support for abortion that came from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Farah Stockman wrote,
“Speaking on abortion rights, a defining issue for an older generation of feminists, Mrs. Clinton dispensed with Democrats’ longstanding caveat that the procedure should be rare, and strongly defended women’s right to control their own bodies without government interference.”
Now here you need to note that that’s not just reporting, that’s not just a matter of summarizing what she said, it is in effect a media cheerleading of what Hillary Clinton was making as an argument about abortion. And yet there’s something very important here even the New York Times recognizes, even as it seems to applaud that Hillary Clinton has gone further than any previous Democratic nominee in her enthusiasm for abortion and abortion rights. Stockman quotes Amanda Silberling, identified as a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, speaking of her satisfaction in what Hillary Clinton had to say about abortion. The student said to the paper,
“For women, politics gets complicated when people try to place ownership on what a woman can and can’t do with her body. It does reassure me to have a woman in office who understands what it’s like to be a woman.”
Then the paper wrote,
“To older Democratic women, who never took the right to abortion for granted — and for whom preservation of the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade is a touchstone — Mrs. Clinton won a new round of approval Wednesday with her defense of even the late-term procedure denounced by its critics as partial-birth abortion.”
Now in the days since the debate, we learned a very great deal—not so much that is new, but simply and very sadly confirmed where the major media are in this country on the issue of abortion, especially the liberal newspapers and liberal media outlets such as the New York Times. Here you have an unvarnished celebration of what Hillary Clinton had to say in defending abortion and, as the reporter said, even defending late-term abortions and identifying it as the procedure “denounced by its critics as partial-birth abortion.”
The headline on the article is this,
“Clinton arrives as a crusader for all women.”
Therefore, you would expect the article to be primarily about Hillary Clinton. But still, on an issue like abortion, you would expect and you would have every right to expect that there would be some notion of balanced coverage in terms of the arguments concerning abortion and partial-birth abortion. But what you have in this article is affirmation of Hillary Clinton’s position. The reporter Stockman then said this,
“Not only did she [speaking of Hillary Clinton] rebuff Mr. Trump’s contention that such abortions ‘rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth,’ but Mrs. Clinton upbraided him for using what she called ‘scare rhetoric.’”
Well, she may have done that, but the question is, was it legitimate and is it honest? What does it tell us that in this case the paper appears to be celebrating the fact that Hillary Clinton referred to what actually happens in a partial-birth abortion and refers to it as “scare rhetoric”? The truth is that if there were any honest depiction of what takes place not only in a late-term abortion but in any abortion, it will be dismissed as scare rhetoric, precisely because it is so grotesque in its reality, not just in its rhetoric.
That article appeared in Friday’s edition of the New York Times. In that very same edition, the Times ran another article with the headline,
“Absurd Trump errs on abortion, doctors say.”
This one’s by Pam Belluck. She writes,
“In the presidential debate Wednesday night, Donald J. Trump expounded on pregnancy and abortion, asserting that under current abortion law, ‘You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.’
The Times then says,
“Doctors say the scenario Mr. Trump described does not occur.”
Now keep that sentence in mind. It’s a categorical statement that doctors say that what Mr. Trump described “does not occur.”
Hold on to that, because that line is going to change even within the same article. The reporter cites Dr. Aaron B. Caughey, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health and Science University, who said,
“That is not happening in the United States.”
He went on to say,
“It is, of course, such an absurd thing to say,” he said. “I’m unaware of anyone that’s terminating a pregnancy a few days prior to delivery of a normal pregnancy.”
Now let’s look really closely at what the doctor had to say. He used very strong language saying it was absurd. He also said to the paper,
“That’s not happening in the United States.”
But notice how just a few words later, it’s a very different argument,
“I’m unaware of anyone that’s terminating a pregnancy a few days prior to the delivery of a normal pregnancy.”
Notice that the language has shifted from “that’s absurd” and “that’s not happening” to “I’m not aware of that happening.” The word absurd put in quotation marks is put in the headline of the story. It’s a much stronger statement than “I’m not aware,” and that tells us something of how a headline can actually communicate something that isn’t fully substantiated by the story itself. It also tells us that on an issue like this, even someone cited as an expert can change his or her story, even in the middle of the article. It’s a very different thing to say, “I’m not aware of it happening” when you had just said, “It’s absurd to say that it’s happening at all.”
The doctor went on to say that when there is a late-term abortion, at least those of which he’s aware, it has to do with the crisis in the health of the baby or the health of the mother. Now remember that second sentence I read to you where the reporter said,
“Doctors say the scenario Mr. Trump described does not occur.”
Then listen to a paragraph that appears just a few inches in print beneath that one.
“According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization that supports abortion rights, 1.3 percent of abortions in the United States occur at 21 weeks of pregnancy or later.”
Now let’s look at that for just a moment—1.3% of abortions in the United States. When you consider that more than 1 million abortions were performed in America last year, 1.3% is indeed over 10,000 abortions. The Times pointed to the fact that some states have laws that outlaw abortion after a certain point, which may be between 22 and 27 weeks, but then the Times says,
“Some of these laws are considered unconstitutional by abortion rights advocates, but their existence indicates that late-term abortion is extremely rare.”
Let’s keep in mind “extremely rare.” How in the world would you define rare? Over 10,000 per year doesn’t sound rare. As a matter fact, it sounds horrifying. So in the same daily edition of the New York Times anyone who suggests that late-term abortions are happening in America is described as absurd even as the paper admits there could be as many as 10,000 performed every year. The paper, by the way, doesn’t do the math, it simply gives the percentage 1.3% as a way of dismissing the issue altogether. And then the paper openly celebrates Hillary Clinton for making her arguments concerning abortion and for calling out Donald Trump for what’s described as scare rhetoric.
Looking at this I can only conclude that those who are behind these articles genuinely believe that the inhabitant of the womb is not a morally significant entity at all. That’s what’s most frightening about these articles and most frightening about our current moment in terms of the sanctity of human life and American culture.
To its credit, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal came out with a very different response and in particular drew attention to what I identified in the morning after the debate. That is Hillary Clinton’s unvarnished argument not only for abortion, but for outcome based law. The editors of the Journal said this,
“Mrs. Clinton is suggesting that the Court should be a super-legislature that vindicates the will of what she calls ‘the American people,’ which apparently excludes ‘the powerful.’ But last we checked, the Constitution protects everyone, even the powerful. The law is supposed to protect individual rights, not an abstraction called ‘the people.’”
The editors wrote,
“The Democrat went downhill from there, promising to appoint judges who would essentially rewrite the First and Second Amendments.”
The editors of the Journal then went on to describe what they saw in Hillary Clinton’s defense of abortion,
“There is at least one right that Mrs. Clinton did suggest she believes to be absolute—to an abortion, at any time during pregnancy right up until birth. She claimed merely to oppose the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which allows some regulation of late-term abortions. But she somehow overlooked Gonzales v. Carhart, the 2007 decision that upheld a legislative ban on so-called partial-birth abortion.”
The editors then summarize,
“To put all this another way, Mrs. Clinton believes there is no restriction on abortion she would ever support.”
In terms of outcome based law, the editors of the Journal recognize that what Hillary Clinton was arguing for was the result that is the decision that she wanted—no reference to the interpretation of the Constitution, much less the binding authority of the Constitution. This is a revolutionary way of understanding the role of judges in American society, especially justices of the Supreme Court. And to the embarrassment of liberals until recent times, they have explained that they really aren’t committed to outcome based law, at least their nominees to the Supreme Court have assured us of that, even when as they were law professors and engaged in those discussions they did encourage nothing less than outcome based law. But now you have Hillary Clinton who isn’t the slightest bit embarrassed to come out right before the American people and announce in advance that she’s going to announce justices who will rule as she wants, not in accordance with the Constitution. That argument really wasn’t even made.
Are doublespeak and hypocrisy merely tools of the political trade? A defense of being two-faced in the New York Times
Finally, in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times there was an opinion piece by Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution entitled,
“Why Hillary Clinton Needs to Be Two-Faced.”
This issue involves Hillary Clinton, of course, but it’s a much larger issue. It has to do with the material leaked by the WikiLeaks organization concerning addresses that Hillary Clinton had given before Wall Street groups back before she was an officially declared candidate for the Democratic nomination. And in one of those leaked speeches, Hillary Clinton apparently said very openly to a Wall Street audience that a politician has to have both a public and a private opinion or a public and a private position on certain issues. She was basically claiming the institutionalization of hypocrisy as a way of doing politics. In response to that you wouldn’t expect a defense of hypocrisy, but that’s exactly what Jonathan Rauch is offering. He writes,
“In politics, hypocrisy and doublespeak are tools. They can be used nefariously, illegally or for personal gain, as when President Richard M. Nixon denied Watergate complicity, but they can also be used for legitimate public purposes, such as trying to prevent a civil war, as in Lincoln’s case [that is President Abraham Lincoln], or trying to protect American prestige and security, as when President Dwight D. Eisenhower denied that the Soviet Union had shot down a United States spy plane.”
Lest we miss his point, later in his column he writes,
“Often, the only way to get something done is to have separate private and public truths. Behind closed doors, nothing is settled until everything is settled. Until the deal is done, everyone can pretend not to have decided anything. But the moment the conversation becomes public, plausible deniability ceases. Everyone knows I’ve made an offer. Angry interest groups, adversaries in the other party, and even purists in my own party start cutting attack ads and lining up challengers to prevent a deal and defeat me.”
He’s writing about the predicament of a politician and suggesting that doublespeak and hypocrisy are simply tools of the trade, necessary tools of the trade.
This is a deeply disturbing article. It ought to be deeply disturbing. Here you have a major newspaper running an article by one of America’s public intellectuals saying that doublespeak and hypocrisy are in politics just necessary tools of the trade. Now keep in mind that Hillary Clinton was speaking to Wall Street bankers, speaking in a context in which those bankers were under criticism and then, as now, when legislation to restrict their activities was very much in view. Hillary Clinton was saying very clearly, “Don’t particularly listen to what I say in public, instead listen to my private reassurances to you.” That’s not just doublespeak, that’s outright hypocrisy. In this case, Hillary Clinton clearly didn’t come up with this tool. It’s been used for a very long time. But what makes the situation different now is that there are apologies being offered for it.
The other thing we need to note is that the illustrations Jonathan Rauch gives here are particularly poor. As a matter of fact, they’re disastrous. He suggests that Richard M. Nixon was engaged in hypocrisy and doublespeak when he denied complicity in the Watergate affair. He wasn’t just engaged in doublespeak and hypocrisy. He was, to use a word I think we can all understand, lying. In Abraham Lincoln’s case, it was a very different era in which clearly Abraham Lincoln was himself evolving and developing in terms of his understanding of how to lead the nation before and during the Civil War. The other thing to note there is that Abraham Lincoln was dealing in a situation of war. That’s a very different situation than the question of regulation of Wall Street banks.
But then the third illustration he gave was Pres. Dwight David Eisenhower, who did deny that the Soviet Union had shot down a spy plane that had been sent over Russian territory by the United States of America. That also, as in the case of Richard Nixon, was not just doublespeak, it was straightforwardly a lie. And we also need to note that later Dwight Eisenhower said that that lie was the biggest mistake of his presidency. The argument made in this article is,
“To get things done in politics, you sometimes have to be a hypocrite.”
The Christian needs to understand that if hypocrisy is required, this eliminates any moral credibility of the entire profession. The biblical worldview simply doesn’t allow us to come up with any justification for hypocrisy. That is absolutely ruled out in terms of a biblical understanding of morality, character and personal integrity. Perhaps reduced to its simplest essence, the issue is this; we shouldn’t allow of our politicians anything we wouldn’t allow of our second grader.
Study indicates secular people tend to invest greater trust in those who are religious
Next, the importance of worldview sometimes shows up in unexpected places. Sometimes it takes the form of people effectively in an article scratching their heads, trying to figure out what’s going on. That was the case in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal in an article by Susan Pinker in the “Mind and Matter” column. The headline,
“When We Display Our Piety, Our Social Stock Rises.”
“One of the many unusual aspects of this presidential campaign has been how little the candidates have discussed religion. Compare this with two previous presidential contenders, among many others who publicly affirmed their faith.”
She cites George W. Bush and also Jimmy Carter, the first in the year 2000 and the second in the 1980 election. But then she makes the suggestion,
“Perhaps one reason for the change is that ‘none’ is the fastest-growing major religious affiliation in America, as a Pew Research Center survey showed last year.”
She then says,
“Given this shifting terrain, does being visibly devout still signal that you can be trusted?”
The next words,
“Surprisingly, the answer is yes.”
Susan Pinker makes the argument that both of the major candidates this year would have strengthened their political positions if they had publicly associated themselves with Christianity or with some kind of strong religious belief. That tells us something about the American voter. It tells us something about a basic instinct that should interest us greatly. Pinker then says,
“People perceive signs of religious observance in others as a measure of dependability, new research shows.”
Researchers, she says, have found that college students and others being tested actually invested greater confidence in individuals who even gave symbolic nods of the head to some kind of authentic religious belief. Students, for example, were likely to invest greater trust in someone who is even wearing a Christian symbol.
“The researchers were surprised to discover that a person wearing Christian religious symbols prompted powerful feelings of trust, not only among fellow Christians but also among secular students and members of other religions.”
Pinker suggests and this is also interesting, that people actually invest greater trust in someone who identifies with a strong religious belief or practice regardless of what that religion is. Now the interest in this article has nothing to do with some kind of religious relativism. Christians understand that it does indeed matter what that theology is. But the interesting thing is that we are told that even secular people invest greater trust in people they perceive to be, well, let’s just say it, unsecular. Pinker concludes her article,
“Such religious displays make us more likely to turn to these people for leadership. Today’s presidential contenders would perhaps benefit from a greater show of reverence. The harder they work to convey that they believe in something greater than themselves, the more credible they will be to voters.”
Now let’s consider this is a secular analysis. It’s not judging this from a Christian perspective; certainly it’s not applying any kind of test of Christian theology. But what’s really interesting is that it tells us something that the Bible affirms. And that is that personal integrity and credibility are certainly enhanced by someone who has strong theistic beliefs. The religious practices that operate in this article and in this research are signals of an underlying belief system. And that’s what’s really interesting, the fact that even secular people invest greater trust in those who have religious beliefs tells us that there must be something, as the Bible would make clear, in even secular people that makes them understand the importance of belief, even when they do not hold those beliefs or share those beliefs.
Now the last thing that biblical Christian should want is someone posing when it comes to religious belief. That would be just another form of hypocrisy. I’m not really interested in what politicians might do in order to try to gain votes by appearing more credible, by offering some kind of evidence of religious practice or devotion that isn’t real. What does interest me as a Christian is that here you have a secular scientist recognizing that, evidently, even secular people understand that greater trust is to be invested in those who do have theological beliefs.
Perhaps the most important sentence of the entire column is that final sentence.
“The harder they work to convey that they believe in something greater than themselves, the more credible they will be to voters.”
Well, let’s just turn that around as we close. What would it mean for someone who does claim to have a secular worldview to be unable to come up with anything greater than themselves? It tells us something about a spiritual hunger that is there, that even these unbelievers invest greater trust in those who are believers, those who do believe in something, indeed in someone, greater than themselves.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go 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.