Thursday, November 9, 2017
The Briefing 11-09-17
Tags: Adoption Tax Credit, Audio, Bill De Blasio, New Jersey, Virginia
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, November 9, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see what Tuesday's election tells us about the American future, why geography still matters, we’ll look at NOVA vs. ROVA in Virginia, and we’ll see that adoption is in danger in the U.S. tax code.
Far-left candidates triumph in traditionally liberal New Jersey and New York City
Voters in New Jersey elected Philip D. Murphy their Governor elect. He's a former banker on Wall Street. He has absolutely no experience in higher office, but he was elected as a Democrat after eight years of Chris Christie, a Republican, being the governor of New Jersey. That's something of an aberration. And as you look at the history of New Jersey, at least the modern political history, the only Republicans who can get elected to statewide office in that state have generally been more liberal or moderate Republicans. Chris Christie was something of an exception as a more conservative Republican. But he was elected in the unusual circumstance of a liberal Democratic governor being not only repudiated but convicted of corruption.
One of the insights that we ought to think about here in terms of the Christian worldview is understanding patterns of how voters behave, and one of the behavioral patterns is the fact that after any chief executive, whether governor or president has served two full terms, there is something of a recognizable pattern of citizens, voters, deciding to go with just about anyone of the opposing party. But what’s also clear is that this election demonstrates New Jersey, in essence, reverting to form, electing state wide not only Democrats, but rather liberal Democrats. And when it comes to liberal Democrats, well Patrick D. Murphy is very well identified. He ran not only to the left of Chris Christie and the Republican challenger in the race. He ran to the left of most of the Democratic Party nationwide.
As the New York Times reported in the story of Murphy's victory, he ran on a platform of a $15 minimum wage, the legalization of marijuana and outright constant opposition to the policies of the Trump Administration. Even the New York Times recognized that Murphy's election was something of a departure, the election of a very decidedly liberal governor rather than the more moderate candidates New Jersey had favored in the past. But I think on that point of analysis, it is worth note that in New Jersey moderate might not mean what moderate means elsewhere in the nation. New Jersey is a rather traditionally liberal state that in keeping with its context there in the Atlantic Northeast.
Meanwhile New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected to a second term. Again, this tells us something. De Blasio is not only elected. He basically coasted to victory, and what makes that all the more interesting is that Bill de Blasio was arguably one of the most liberal, indeed openly socialist candidates, to have run in a major American election in a very long time. As a matter fact, looking at New York City, it's the very symbol of what's been called the East Coast establishment. Manhattan itself very socially and morally liberal. Now they have an economically and politically liberal mayor elected for a second term. It has been noted that Bill de Blasio openly championed the late Hugo Chavez, the strongman of Venezuela, a well-known socialist figure on the world scene. And furthermore Bill de Blasio throughout all of his political career has been very unashamed and unabashed to identify himself on the political left, and even more recently, as mayor of New York City to make openly socialist arguments. Just a few weeks ago in September he openly criticized the very notion of private property. He said,
“What’s been hardest is the way our legal system is structured to favor private property. I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be. I think,” he said, “there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs.”
Now that's almost classical Marxism, and here you have a mayor of one of America's major cities, no America's largest city, stating that he believes the city should decide which building goes where, how high it can be, even who can live in it and what the rent should be. In terms of New York and New Jersey, no big surprise, both elected Democrats, both elected very liberal Democrats. If there was any surprise it was in New York City where so few New Yorkers actually turned out even to vote.
Geographic, political, and worldview divides highlighted as Virginia elects liberal Democrat as governor
But the big story was known to be Virginia and the election of the governor there. And the reason for that, well it comes down to this: Virginia as a state is increasingly seen as a barometer for the entire nation. Demographically and in terms its state profile, in terms of its voting patterns, Virginia is increasingly taking the place of a state like Ohio. For decades, especially for most of the 20th century, the statement was that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. And interestingly enough, sometimes those presidential elections have come down even specifically to how the voters of Ohio would vote. Ohio was symbolic because it was one of those Midwestern states that seemed to be politically, historically and demographically indicative of the entire nation. But the nation has now shifted away from Ohio being that symbolic state to that state being Virginia. And yet as you look at Virginia, The reason why so many people believe it is an indication of the American future is because Virginia has been transformed politically, sociologically, culturally and demographically right before our eyes.
How has Virginia been transformed? Well you are looking at one of the original colonies that became one of the original 13 states, but you are also looking at a state that now represents the great cleavage in America, the great divide. If you were to look at an electoral map from Tuesday's election in Virginia, it would look in terms of the visuals as if it were an overwhelming Republican landslide. But of course it wasn't. It was a Democratic victory. If you look at the state, it would look largely red, colored for Republican. But as you look to northern Virginia and just a couple of other counties and legislative districts, you would notice that they are not only blue but deeper blue, increasingly blue. And that is because Virginia is now being separated into what's called NOVA, or Northern Virginia, and ROVA, or the rest of Virginia.
That means that Virginia is increasingly separated between very liberal, very hip, very millennial, very metropolitan areas, especially near Washington D.C. and rather rural Virginians who vote very differently than those northern Virginians. So the division between NOVA, Northern Virginia, and ROVA, the rest of Virginia, it tells us something about how we now understand the 2016 United States presidential election. The election in Virginia got very interesting especially in the last few weeks. Virginia has been a state that has prided itself on civility in terms of statewide elections, but this gubernatorial election wasn't quite so simple. In the last several weeks the differences between the two candidates became increasingly clear.
Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican national committee and a man who came very close to displacing Democratic Senator Mark Warner, in the election in Virginia in 2014 was considered to be the underdog, but he narrowed the gap considerably at least in terms of polling in the weeks just prior to Tuesday's election. And he did so as just about everyone nationwide noted by running on the political platform of President Donald Trump but without associating himself with the president personally. The Democratic candidate in Tuesday's election, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, ran a rather quiet campaign again until the last several weeks. He is not only the states incumbent Lieutenant Governor. He is an Army veteran, and he has served as a physician. But he was not considered someone who had the kind of charisma that many other candidates have had, but he did clearly appeal especially to those millennial and metropolitan voters in Northern Virginia.
In its news coverage of the Virginia election, the New York Times stated it this way,
“Mr. Northam was propelled by liberal and moderate voters who were eager to send a message to President Trump in a state that rejected him in 2016 and where he is deeply unpopular.”
Now one of the things we need to note is that what we see in that article is the blurring, the increasing deliberate blurring, between the categories of editorializing and news coverage. It's done in the name of analysis, and this has been a significant shift in journalism where reporters and newspapers now believe that they have the right to analyze for us. But that analysis, we need to note, comes laden with worldview implications. But what’s basically indisputable was the math. Even though many pundits that expected the vote to be very, very close, especially in the closing hours as electoral results came in, at the end of the day Northam received almost 54% of the vote to Gillespie's 45% and judged by the actual way that these kinds of elections are categorized that amounts almost to a landslide.
What does this now tell us as Virginia will be increasingly looked to for analysis looking to the 2018 midterm elections and then the 2020 American presidential elections? Well we’ll leave that to the political pundits. What's important is to recognize what the 2017 race for governor tells us about why Virginia now points to the American future and what that means. If you take New York and New Jersey, again you can put them into safely Democratic territory, very liberal Northeastern enclaves, we understand that. But Virginia's election was understood by people in both parties and in both worldview camps in the United States as being indicative of the future. The question is where is the trend line? What is Virginia telling us? And what seems to be most important is to understand that there is an ever increasing divide it seems politically and in terms of moral worldview between more rural Americans and more urban and metropolitan Americans. Americans now sort themselves out in various ways, but you can see it in the state of Virginia right on a map.
And of course this also gets to matters of politics and economics. It turns out that one of the reasons why Northern Virginia has trended so Democratic in recent elections is because the economy there is strong, largely because it is so dependent upon government spending. So even as much of Virginia has suffered economically in recent decades, the reality is that Northern Virginia has prospered, and one of the key reasons for that is the concentration of government spending in that area and its proximity to Washington D.C. In many ways Northern Virginia has become an extension of Washington D.C., which has become an extension of the Northeastern establishment, which means that Northern Virginia is now trending more towards New York and New Jersey. And it is placing itself now in increasing odds with the rest of its own state.
So as we think in terms of worldview, we need to think in two directions, both how politics influences worldview and how worldview will influence politics. But we also have to pay attention to context. As we've noted before, the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to a campus, and the closer you get to a coast, the more morally progressive or liberal the society becomes, and the more secular it becomes as well. So as you're looking at Northern Virginia and you look at the rest of the state, when you look at the distinction now between NOVA and ROVA, it’s not only about Northern Virginia and the rest of Virginia. It's about those areas closest to the coast, closest to the campuses and closest to the cities that are now growing rather distant from the rest of America, especially rural America.
But election 2017 might well be remembered for some other milestones. For example, in the state of Virginia a state legislator was elected as the first openly transgender officeholder within the state. Similarly, a transgender candidate was elected to the Minneapolis City Council. Meanwhile, citizens in Seattle elected that city’s first openly lesbian mayor. It will be interesting to note what historical lessons are drawn from the election of 2017. But it's also very important to recognize that both parties looking to the 2017 election understood that the results would tell us something. Now the great debate will continue. What exactly do these results tell us?
Keeping the adoption tax credit in place a matter of life and death for many vulnerable children
Next as we said in the beginning of the week, much of the political conversation in this country has been about the Republican sponsored tax reform program. Now that particular legislation may or may not find its way through the House of Representatives and through the Senate into some kind of bill that may or may not be signed by President Trump. But in any event, it reminds us in terms of Christian worldview analysis that an economic plan is a moral plan and an economic system reveals deep moral commitments. It tells you who a nation really is, or for that matter if it's a city, what the city's priorities really are. The economics tells the story. And we also have to remember that a tax system is one of the ultimate ways of revealing what a society prioritizes and what it wants to minimize. So even in terms of behavior, a tax code is filled with all kinds of provisions to reward certain kinds of behavior, thus, to incentivize it and offer disincentives for other kinds of behavior.
One of the most classic of these embedded for many, many decades within the American tax code has been the fact that the United States government has wanted to incentivize and prioritize private homeownership. Thus, the mortgage interest deductibility has been a big issue going back as we said for decades; whereby the federal government has said that it is better for the nation that an increasing number of citizens own their own homes and live in the homes that they own. That wasn't just an economic principle. It was based upon the fact that citizens who have a direct investment, especially in terms of real estate in a community, are likely to be a stabilizing force. And not only that, they are likely to spin off other economic and social benefits. That's why the country has incentivized through the tax code the private ownership of homes.
So when there is an argument that perhaps that needs to be revisited, regardless of the party and regardless of the argument, that's going to be a very controversial move. And there are other sure to be controversial elements as well. For example, one of the odd features of the federal tax code has been the deductibility of state taxes. Now what that has meant is that the more liberal and free spending state governments, especially in the Northeast, have been subsidized by citizens over the rest of the country by allowing those states to increase their state taxes in a way that they wouldn't be able to politically otherwise because of the deductibility of those state taxes on the federal tax system. But that also points to the inevitability of politics because that state deductibility has been a bigger issue in the states that have been predominantly Democratic and more liberal in terms of their politics not only the American Atlantic Northeast, but also a state like California.
But this points to the fact that all of these issues are within the overarching worldview questions related to the very existence of a federal income tax that was made possible only by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And furthermore every tax system has at its very foundation an idea of how the government should approach the issue of wealth and the development of capital and the hope for economic growth. There can be no question that the current tax system is an omnibus of confusions and complexity that simply cannot be justified. Furthermore, it can easily be argued that current tax rates and the current tax system are a disincentive towards economic growth and in particular even massive companies bringing wealth and capital back into the United States.
But in terms of evangelical concern and conviction when it comes to this specific tax reform proposal, one of the most important issues of our concern is the fact that the new proposal would eliminate a very special tax credit for adoption. The current tax code allows up to $13,570 per child in terms of a tax credit in terms of the year in which a child is adopted. The important thing to recognize here is that adoption is expensive. By some estimates, it costs between $20,000 and $40,000 per child on average. That puts it economically out of the reach of many American families. That adoption tax credit has made those adoptions economically possible for many families, including many Christian, many evangelical families. Furthermore, there is a specific doctrinal, theological, biblical mandate behind the evangelical concern for an advocacy for adoption. This is a specifically pro-life, a comprehensively pro-life argument that understands that if indeed there is an economic disincentive now towards adoption there will be in effect an economic incentive to abort those babies.
There can be no question about the economic considerations behind this. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that repealing the adoption credit would, and I quote the Wall Street Journal,
“raise $3.8 billion over a decade.”
Some of the Republican sponsors of this legislation defending the excising of this adoption tax credit have argued that there will be increased tax deductibility for all American families. One of the sponsors said over the years this would add up to more than the adoption tax credit. Well over the years it might, but that does not help parents who in a specific year need to come up with the funds to be able to adopt a child that desperately needs a home. There are some issues in the tax code where the question is between what is good and better and best. And actually, more honestly, what is bad and worse and worse of all, but when it comes to this issue, we really are looking at something that could be a matter of life and death. The Republican Party that has increasingly stood for the sanctity and dignity of every human life, including unborn human life, puts its moral character at risk by putting forward of tax reform proposal that would disincentivize the adoption of children. The message needs to be sent and sent quickly to those who are looking at this legislation that the elimination of this credit is simply unacceptable, morally unacceptable, and furthermore, even as it might be recognized that somehow in terms of this tax reform. The legislators are going to have to come up with $3.8 billion from some kind of change in the tax code. This is exactly the wrong place to find it.
It’s one thing to argue about whether the national tax code should incentivize the private ownership of homes. It’s quite a different thing to argue or even to present as arguable the idea that our tax code should disincentivize the adoption of needy children. This is where Christians can make a difference and must make a difference and must make that difference fast.