Thursday, Aug 30, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday, August 30, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Why America’s political parties have moved further from the center over the past half-century
Quite rightly, we now think of American elections as vast battles of ideas. Of course, they are. It is true, but we need to note that it has not always been true, even looking at just about the last half-century in American history. If you go back to the 1960 United States presidential election, pitting then-Senator John F. Kennedy against then-Vice President Richard Nixon, Kennedy with the Democratic nomination, Nixon with the Republican nomination, it was a fierce political battle, but it was not rightly described as a big battle of ideas.
In reality, both Kennedy and Nixon were running for many of the same voters. They were running for the vast American middle, and there were no major ideological issues that separated them. In 1960, some voters were simply motivated by their partisan party identification. Others were really looking more at the character and the personality of the candidates involved. It was not so much about ideas, but that all changed in 1964 and following. By 1964, the elections were largely over the size and authority of government, the relationship of the federal government to the state. That was true when Lyndon Baines Johnson was elected in 1964.
By 1968, Richard Nixon who had lost, narrowly lost to the election to John F. Kennedy in 1960 was running on a clearly conservative platform, but it was clearly conservative mostly as you think about foreign policy and national defense and also issues of crime and national order in the United States. Richard Nixon, we should note, largely agreed with the Democratic consensus on the size of government, but in 1972, the Democrats nominated Senator George McGovern. McGovern represented something altogether new in the modern politics of the United States. He represented a clearly liberal candidate. Of course, he was roundly trounced by Richard Nixon in one of the biggest landslide victories for an incumbent president or any presidential candidate in American history.
As you fast-forward then to 1980, an election which pitted then-President Jimmy Carter against former California Governor Ronald Reagan, at that point, you are beginning to see something of the lines of the modern American political reality we know. What was the catalyst? Well, in 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision, other issues of moral interest that made the 1980 presidential campaign completely different than what had come just 20 years before in 1960, whereas Kennedy and Nixon actually agreed on most of the big policy issues. It was at least within a very moderate consensus that included the leaders of both parties. By the time you pass through Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, and George McGovern, and Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan, you're looking at a different America.
Then we come to another phase in American politics. A phase that marked the political lifetimes of most of the voters now living. That was a phase in which the Republican and the Democrats as parties and as candidates running on clearly opposing policies and platforms on issues such as abortion and many other questions. They were basically battling over the great American middle, the middle of the American electorate. That created a very important and what most Americans thought was going to be a permanent political reality. The great political consensus was the argument that in order to win any major candidate, not only in a national race but in most statewide races, would have to move to the middle.
Now, we are in an entirely new terrain. That was made clear in the 2016 presidential election, but it is shaping up to be even more dramatically true in the new American political reality which is marking the 2018 midterm elections. In order to understand that, all you have to look at is two southern states. One of those states, the state of Florida, is actually now the nation's most significant and most populous transitional state or swing state.
The new reality of American politics: In an era of division, our elections are turning out to be more and more a ‘battle of the edge cases’
The state of Georgia is a classically southern state, but here is something that virtually no one could have foreseen just two years ago in 2016. In both Georgia and in Florida, the nominees for the office of governor of both of the major political parties represent what can only be defined over time as extremes within their own part identification.
This November in both Georgia and Florida, voters are going to choose between African-American very liberal Democratic nominees and white very conservative Republican nominees, both of whom are closely identified with President Donald Trump. In both states, the eventual Democratic nominee won by running to the left, even in states like Florida and Georgia. On the Republican side, both of the eventual nominees won the nomination over against more establishment candidates who have long to be considered to be the front-runners until President Trump intervened in endorsements in both campaigns, leading Brian Kemp, the secretary of state of Georgia, and Ron DeSantis, a congressman in Florida, two eventual victories for their party's nomination.
Looking to Florida and Georgia as examples on the Republican side, the big lesson is the personal influence of President Donald Trump amongst Republican voters. As we have said in both cases, the candidates who won, won with and because of President Trump's backing. On the Democratic side, what's really interesting is that in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, who had been a state legislator, and in Florida, Andrew Gillum, the very liberal mayor of the capital city of Tallahassee, they won not so much because of endorsements but because of the issues. They ran very clearly identifying themselves to the left of almost anyone on the current electoral scene, even in the Democratic Party. This represents a massive shift.
We saw a very significant shift among Republicans in 2016. This is, if anything, an even more significant ideological shift among Democrats in 2018. We, of course, are speaking before the November elections when a very clear signal may be sent, but make no mistake, one signal is already exceedingly clear, and that is the leftward march of the Democratic Party. We should note that these electoral victories in the primaries came by voters. This was not a party establishment, but we should also note there were party issues and big partisan money behind these victories.
The fact that Stacey Abrams won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Georgia was one thing, but when Tuesday night, it became clear that Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, had won the Democratic nomination in Florida, that was something else altogether. Consider this. Andrew Gillum has a very clearly established liberal reputation as the mayor of Tallahassee, but it's not only that. He was publicly backed by independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who ran for president on a platform openly identifying as a Democratic socialist.
It's not just that. Andrew Gillum's campaign would've been impossible without major infusions of cash from figures such as George Soros and Tom Steyer. George Soros is well-known as a billionaire financier who has funded many of the largest left-wing causes not only in the United States but around the world. There can be no question that George Soros and his Open Society Foundation are major figures on the Democratic left, and furthermore, in the ideological and political left throughout much of Europe as well.
George Soros is the very example of the kind of globalist cosmopolitan the Democratic elites took money from in years past but would not have identified with. All that's changed in 2018. Tom Steyer is another multimillionaire. He has put his money on the line, by some accounts, spending up to $40 million in an effort to elect liberal Democratic candidates and to impeach President Donald Trump.
Now, what we need to note as the big shift is this. At least until now, Democratic candidates might have taken money from figures such as Steyer and Soros, but they would not have publicly identified with their political positions and ideologies. That's different. Andrew Gillum clearly does so identify. Gillum, for example, is running on a platform of a massive expansion of Medicare to cover everyone, the so-called Medicare for All program. He has also openly called to abolish ICE. That is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. He has followed the same line as some others in the Democratic left saying that ICE should simply be abolished.
There can be little doubt that the gained the interest of the Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders precisely because he holds too many of the same positions. In his campaign platform, he has called for a massive increase of the corporate tax in Florida in order to pay for what Benjamin Wallace-Wells of The New Yorker identifies as a billion-dollar boost in public education spending. He has called to repeal Florida's stand-your-ground law, and he has also advocated a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker points to the financial dimension here. "Gillum had also recognized that the big money in the Democratic Party, Steyer's money, George Soros' money, is now on the left, not the center." That's just extremely significant. This tells us how a political landscape changes, and how those who are trying to look at the fundamental worldview issues must understand that when you are looking at a political realignment of this kind of magnitude, you are looking at the exhaustion and rejection of certain ideas, and the embrace and openness to quite different ideas.
The article in The New Yorker also is very clear about the fact that George Soros, several years ago, launched a national network in order to encourage and fund young progressive elected officials. Andrew Gillum, we are told, have been to George Soros' New York apartment. He addressed Soros' board of directors, and earlier this year, he dined with him in San Francisco where the two men happened to be in the same town.
Wallace-Wells then writes, "Soros committed to back Gillum's gubernatorial campaign." "If I'm remembering it correctly, it was, 'We don't know if you can win, but we would like what it could represent,'" according to Gillum said. He went on to say, "I interpreted it to mean that it would be significant to see a person of color taken seriously in a statewide race." There is also no doubt looking at this articles that it is Gillum's ideas, his ideological profile that really has the attention of the Democratic left, but there can also be no doubt that Gillum's win in the primary on Tuesday was fueled largely by young and African-American voters.
The article by Benjamin Wallace-Wells is important for one thing because it appears in The New Yorker. That's a very liberal establishment magazine of the cultural elite in the United States, and they identify themselves just that way, as the cultural elite. It's also interesting that in this article, Benjamin Wallace-Wells is trying to explain to the readers of The New Yorker what's going in this changed political terrain.
He writes, "There's a subtle generational seam running through the rising class of Democratic politicians. Those born in the late 1960s, such as Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, came up taking their cues from baby boomers and are now working to repurpose their politics to meet a more ideological party." He goes on to explain that younger candidates amongst the Democrats born in the 1970s have "spent their careers closely watching the millennials, and explaining their evolving politics to the Party's elders."
Now, let's just step back and do a little worldview analysis here. On the Democratic side, this tells us that we are looking at a fundamental realignment. Ideas that would have been radical and on the political fringe not just a generation ago, much less, decades ago, we're talking just two years ago have now become the standard political discourse of those who are not only running for Democratic office, but are gaining Democratic Party nominations, beating more established, more centrist candidates in state after state.
We are also looking at the fact that as this article makes clear there is a generational shift going on amongst the Democrats. One of the most interesting lines in this article is where the author tells us that the older Democratic politicians, they were after all born in the late 1960s, they are having to repurpose their political messages in order to catch up with the new Democratic reality, but it's also of great worldview significance to understand what kind of money committed to what kind of worldview is behind these candidates. It's a really big story, especially when it comes not just to Tom Steyer but to George Soros, a man who has accomplished the feet of being controversial on several continents simultaneously.
This also raises a very interesting new phenomenon that also has worldview dimensions. That is this. So much of the big money, and we're talking in many cases about really, really big money on the left, comes from those who made their fortunes, and they are big fortunes, not so much in making something or even in selling something in the traditional economy most of us think about, but rather in the high echelons of finance or in the new mega businesses of Silicon Valley and high technology.
At least, when it comes to the Democratic side of the equation, we're looking at a new younger generation seizing upon ideas that have been on the fringe and demanding that they be in the mainstream. We are seeing Democratic voters vote for those candidates over against more traditional, mainstream, more moderate candidates, and we are seeing huge new money from the ideological left fueling this Democratic political realignment.
In an article at The Atlantic, Russell Berman sets this up, pointing tot he fact that in November, just in the state of Florida, we're going to be looking at "one of the most brutal races in the country." That's because so much is at stake, and that's because the differences between the candidates, their worldviews, their ideologies, and their policies are so stark. Matt Stipanovich, a longtime strategist there in Florida looking to the election coming in November put it this way. "Everybody got their wish. Both parties got the opponents they wanted to run against," but in conclusion, he said, "We'll see this fall which side has reasons to rue their wish."
As we leave this story, for now, I want to cite another political strategist quoted in The Atlantic article, Rick Wilson said that the election in November in Florida is going to be "a battle of the edge cases." That's where American politics is now headed. In this era of ideological, cultural, and moral division, an increasingly deep division amongst the American people, every one of our elections is turning out to be more and more a battle of the edge cases.
Finally, on this issue, as a footnote, thinking about the increased political and ideological division in the United States and virtual proof positive that everything is now political and everything is ideological, I turn not to the state of Georgia nor to the state of Florida but to the state of New York, wherefrom the relatively far left Cynthia Nixon is running an insurgent campaign against liberal Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The big issue that concerns Cynthia Nixon when it comes to the debates is the fact that she claims that the New York governor is sexist when it comes to room temperature. As The Examiner reported, "Rebecca Katz, Nixon's strategist, asked debate officiator CBS in an email to set the debate hall at Hofstra University on Long Island at 76 degrees because Cuomo is 'notoriously sexist when it comes to room temperature.'" Now, even the thermostat is an instrument of ideology.
In the midst of Catholic civil war, Chicago cardinal makes light of abuse cover-up allegations
Next, we have to return once again to the continuing horrifying headlines concerning the priestly child abuse crisis and the cover-up amongst bishops and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. The latest development is one to which we must give attention. Earlier this week, the cardinal archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, gave an interview to the NBC affiliate there in Chicago channel five. In that interview, he was asked to respond to the specific indictment that was offered to the Roman Catholic hierarchy by a member of that hierarchy, the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Viganò had offered an 11-page single-spaced indictment against the current pope and many major clerics in the Roman Catholic Church as being involved in the cover-up. In delivering his accusations, he specifically charged that none other than Cardinal Cupich have been directly involved in offering protection, especially to what he identified as the LGBTQ-friendly wing of the American Catholic leadership.
Shockingly, the current pope was asked about Viganò's charges, he said that he would not respond with a word, a patently unacceptable response, but Cardinal Cupich followed the very same line when he was asked about it by the NBC affiliate, he said that he thought that the pope had offered "exactly the kind of answer that was needed." You will note that was no answer whatsoever, but then Cardinal Cupich went further when he was asked even more directly, he said this.
"But for the Holy Father, I think to get into each and every one of those aspects, in some way is inappropriate and secondly, the pope has a bigger agenda. He's gotta get on with other things of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church. We're not going to go down a rabbit hole on this."
Now, of all the shocking statements I've seen in a very long life related to this kind of issue, I have never seen a statement like this. I have certainly never seen a statement like this coming from someone who is directly charged with wrongdoing and with trying rather covertly to change the moral position of the Roman Catholic church on basic moral issues.
This is a stunning statement, appearing to dismiss credible and very direct charges of a cover-up in the hierarchy of the church by saying, "We're not going to go down a rabbit hole on this." Yesterday, Cardinal Cupich said that his statement has been distorted when it was taken out of context, but when you look at the transcript and the entire context, that simply is not true. There is no way to construe the cardinal's statement as anything other than what was presented in the NBC interview.
There's more related to Cardinal Cupich. Just a few days earlier, he had spoken to the Catholic magazine America, and he was asked if ordaining gay men to the priesthood was the problem. By the way, we should note that the Vatican in 2005 adopted an official policy of not ordaining to the priesthood men who confess to having a homosexual orientation, but as is not known, that is a policy that is routinely broken in the United States and elsewhere, but Cardinal Cupich, when he was asked directly if ordaining gay men was the problem said that it is not, and he went on to make the claim that homosexuality is a dimension of this issue by citing the 2011 report conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
A look at the actual document released by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice indicates that of the cases known at the time, 81% of the sex abuse victims were boys. Now, it would be, of course, unfair to charge that all gay men have any sexual attraction as is reflected in these horrifying stories, but the reality is that there is an undoubted and objectively true homosexual dimension to the scandal in the Roman Catholic church. There's no way around it.
Then this takes us to two other shocking developments. The first is an article by Matthew Schmitz that appeared in the August 28 edition of the New York Times. In one sense, the big story is that it appeared in the New York Times. Schmitz writes, and I quote, "Pope Francis must resign. That conclusion is unavoidable if allegations contained in a letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò are true. Archbishop Viganò, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016, says that Pope Francis knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused seminarians, but nonetheless lifted penalties imposed upon him by Pope Benedict XVI."
Schmitz then continued, "No matter what Francis does now, the Roman Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet."
This is a story that simply cannot be exaggerated in importance. This is an opinion piece. The fact that it appears in The New York Times is massive. The clarity of the charges made here are also irrefutable, but what's really even more important is that Schmitz points to this basic war that is now in the open. By the way, The New York Times ran an article with almost precisely that headline. An internal war in the Roman Catholic Church between liberals and traditionalist. It is heading towards a direct confrontation now out in the public.
Now, this would be interesting if it occurred elsewhere, and of course, it has in a smaller scale in many of the liberal Protestant denominations. The interesting thing there is that those liberal Protestant denominations make no overarching claims of doctrinal authority, virtually none whatsoever. They certainly do not claim to be the vessel of an unchanging doctrine and moral teaching, but that's precisely the claim at the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church. That's the basic issue that now pits those identified as traditionalist over against those identified as liberals or progressives.
There is no doubt where The New York Times editorial board would like to see the Roman Catholic Church go. It's very significant that they allowed this article that sets the issues so very clearly. This is how Schmitz defines the issue. I quote. "If the church really does believe that homosexual acts are always and everywhere wrong, it should begin to live what it teaches. This would," he said, "most likely mean enforcing the 2005 decree and removing clergy members caught in unchastity." He continued, "If the church does not believe what it says, and there are now many reasons to think that it does not, it should officially reverse its teaching and apologize for centuries of pointless cruelty." "Either way," says Schmitz, "something must change."
The other major development was also an article, but this one appeared on the editorial page of The Washington Post by Marc A. Thiessen. Thiessen's article begins surprisingly enough with this line. "For the first time, I understand how the Reformation happened." The major point of Thiessen's article is that there is now no way for the Vatican and the hierarchy of the church to refuse to answer direct accusation. When articles like this appear so challenging, if not directly critical, the liberal Pope Francis, in liberal secular newspapers with the authority of The Washington Post and The New York Times, something decisive has changed, and we should note just how quickly this change has come about.
It's absolutely shameful that Cardinal Cupich said, more or less, "Let's just get busy and move on, nothing to see here." As these articles that appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times made clear, that's not going to happen.
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.