Friday, Nov 2, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, November 2, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
As Americans face electoral Rorschach test, both political parties seek to address big questions in Tuesday’s election
The big political story in the United States of course is Tuesday's upcoming midterm elections in the United States. That's always a big story. The question is is it an even story in 2018? The pattern of American politics at the national level is very clear. Presidential election cycles drive huge interest and huge voter turnout, but the midterm elections are if anything an even clearer barometer of America's worldview, its political pulse, its political and Democratic dynamic.
When you look at midterm election cycles, the issue is very clear. The voters who turn out in midterm elections are generally more highly motivated, more civically engaged and perhaps more ideologically committed than those who vote in the presidential election cycles.
The reality is here's another little fact of American politics. Americans at least think they ought to vote. One of the most interesting things and by the way, there is a pattern here that extends to church attendance, another thing that millions of Americans think they ought to do.
If you ask Americans if they voted, the number of Americans who say yes is actually far higher than the number of votes that were actually cast. Americans say they voted and they may even say they remember voting when they didn't vote. There's an ought to.
In the midterm elections, that number is higher. As I said, there's also a parallel with church attendance. If you ask Americans if they have attended church over the course of the last month, more Americans say yes and they report a frequency that isn't backed up with actual church attendance.
That's a matter of human nature and it applies to politics as well as to church attendance and in the midterm elections, the big question on the part of both parties is this. Which party has the political base that is more energized to turn out in the midterm elections?
We also have to understand that much is at stake. A great deal is at stake. Both nationally and statewide and in almost every jurisdiction locally as well. There are some big patterns with worldview implications that are important here.
First of all, we need to recognize that the founder's vision of the United States as reflected in our constitutional order means that every two years there is a new congress, a newly elected House of Representatives and a newly elected one-third of the United States Senate.
Now that's really important because that means that every two years, the American voting public has something of a war shot test reflected in the composition of congress. The votes that are made every two years determine who will sit for the next two years in the House of Representatives and again, about a third of the Senate.
When you're talking about a third of the Senate and almost every case, you're talking about at least what is mathematically a possible shift in party leadership in the nation's higher chamber of the congress, but as you're looking at the House of Representatives, the reason the framers intended that two-year term in what's been discussed as the lower house throughout American political history is that they wanted the house to be the most directly Democratic, the most directly responsive to the American electorate.
That means that there could be no member of the House of Representatives that was not at least 24 months from a decision made by the American people as is reflected in the Federalist Papers. The vision of the founders, the framers of our Constitution, for the upper chamber, the Senate, was exactly the opposite.
The Senate was to be elected to six-year terms staggered so that a third roughly would be elected or reelected every two years and as the framers intended, the upper chamber was to be in the six-year terms, a place for more discussion, more deliberation.
It was to be a place of cooler analysis that would be at a greater distance from the electoral cycle giving senators six year terms was intended to protect them over the course of a longer period of 10 years so that they could take greater political risks in holding back what were understood to be the dangerous political passions that could affect the house on its two-year cycle.
The founders assigned many specific responsibilities to the house and especially in the budget process, but at the same time, it reserved to the Senate as one-half of the authority of the legislature, the responsibility to be more deliberative, more stable, cooler in analysis, but the 2018 midterm elections have been anything but cool.
What we are looking at in the larger pattern at the national level is that the 2018 midterm elections have been to a large extend and will be on Tuesday a referendum not on members of the Senate, not on members of the House of Representatives, but a referendum on the president of the United States Donald Trump.
Now, you're going to hear many in the media point to this and here's where Christians need to have a longer historical perspective, that's always been the case. That's been the case going all the way back to the earliest years of the republic.
The midterm elections especially in the first term of a presidency, they often are a barometer on the relative status of the president and his administration at that moment which is something like a snapshot of the political condition of the country.
Yet in 2018, it appears that that is not only historically so, it is in this context even more so. As the Financial Times of London reported, if you look at the American senatorial elections, this cycle and you look at the entire House of Representatives and those elections this cycle, the ballot for each of those offices will show two names in almost every case, but as the Financial Times said, "Explaining this American cycle to an international audience, there is really in effect a third name on every one of those ballots."
Related to every office, that name is Donald J. Trump. Another issue that Christians should observe is that there is an anticipation and analysis game about the midterm elections. This is true with presidential elections as well, it is even more true of these midterm elections in which congress is most importantly at stake.
The anticipation game, the prognostication game comes down to this. The strategist for both parties have to act as if they believe that momentum is on their side. If you're watching the cable news especially in these last days before Tuesday's election, you're going to hear the activist from the two separate parties, the Democrats and the Republicans both argue that it is their base that is more exercised, it is their voters that are more excited, it is their candidates who are going to prevail.
You ask the question, "Why are they so passionate when the election hasn't been held? After all, the election will answer the question." But the issue is this, both parties understand that the anticipation game is a part of their ground game for the election.
What does that mean? It means that both parties actually understand another factor of human nature. For Christians, this is really interesting. That fact of human nature is this. It turns out that we as human beings want to be on the side of the winner.
Thus, if Republican analysts were to admit, "We think the greater momentum is on the Democratic side. There is documented proof that that would actually reduce the Republican vote." On the other hand, the same thing is true in mirror image if Democratic analysts were to admit that they believe that momentum is on the Republican side by admitting that in public, they would also lead to a suppression of their own vote.
What you are hearing in the lead up to the elections actually isn't much analysis at all. It's raw politics. It is the politics of persuasion trying to convince by the activists of the voters on their side that they need to get out and vote and that if they do, they're going to be on the winning side, but that gets to another issue that Christians have to understand.
The power of the vote comes down to the fact that we are eventually talking about math. That's also really laden with world view importance. When we look at the results to start coming in on Tuesday evening and as we look at the data that will be analyzed, not only the next day, but for many years to come, we're going to be looking at number after number after number.
Now keep in mind something that Christians should think about here. We are living in an era in which there are many people who say they don't believe in objective truth. They have bought into the worldview of post-modernism in some form of relativism and they say that truth is only a matter of opinion.
It's all socially constructed, but you'll notice that all of those arguments go by the way when the truth comes down to numbers. The difference between the number one and the number two. That's an essential issue that will be fought out not only on the mathematical score of the election returns, but in court if necessary where some of the very people who say truth is relative will argue numbers are numbers, facts are facts when of course they are convenient for us.
In recent days, major media have reported and this is basically understood to be actually true. Looking to the 2018 midterm elections, there does appear to be a heightened interest amongst the voters of both parties for this midterm election.
You asked the question, "Why this time? Why 2018?" More than say 2014 or before that, the 2010 midterm elections. The answer is this. We are looking at the fact that the dramatic partisan divide in the United States has now reached the point where there is tremendous investment in the midterm elections by the voting base of both of the parties.
Here's another interesting phenomenon. Those voting bases are not even close to being the same. There's a special obstacle faced by Democrats, the Democratic party historically in the midterm elections and that is this. A greater percentage of the Republicans who vote in a presidential election year are counted on to vote two years later in the midterm elections.
Republicans are far more active and far more predictable in midterm voting behavior than are Democrats. Why would that be the case? Well, if you look at the voting base of the two parties, there is a phenomenon that has a great deal to do with the age of voters. The older the voter, the more likely they are to vote. Why would that be the case? Well, you could argue it's an ingrained political Democratic habit, the habit of voting.
There is also perhaps the access and the time to vote, but there's another phenomenon here. Political passion is disproportionate to age. The younger people in the populous tend to be more politically extreme and more politically agitated which you would think would translate into more voting, but that's not actually the case. The Democratic party in recent cycles has had a greater support from young voters.
The problem is, many of those young voters don't actually vote. The most interesting demonstration of this has to do with the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012. President Obama did what no previous Democratic candidate had been able to do in those two national elections. He got young people not only to support him, but to get out and vote.
President Obama then in 2010 and in 2014 tried to translate that personal support amongst younger voters and to support for Democratic candidates, but that didn't work. Indeed, in the cycles of 2010 and 2014, the end result could only be described as catastrophic for the Democratic party outside of the oval office.
Why American voters generally, and Democrats specifically, are more interested in presidential elections than midterm elections
So, as we are anticipating Tuesday's midterm elections, one of the biggest questions has to do with who will actually vote and as you're looking at this, you recognize the voting bases of the two parties are by now very, very different. The key issue of the Democratic party is whether they can get enough minority and younger voters to actually vote. There can be no question at this point.
That the energy and the Democratic party is disproportionate to the Republican party amongst those segments of the American electorate. The big questions is whether they vote. If they do vote in high numbers such as in 2008 and in 2012, Democratic candidates are likely to win especially in many of the closest elections. The next thing to watch are suburban voters.
Suburban voters in many ways are in America right now the only true swing voters. The only percentage of the American voting population that really does vote sometimes for Democrats and sometimes for Republicans, but that's a generalization that also has to be conditioned a bit.
The reality is that even most of the suburban voters are predictably either Republican or Democratic, but within the suburbs especially the highly educated suburbs, the wealthier suburbs in the United States, we now have some significant swing districts.
The Democratic party looking at the House of Representatives seeking to regain control of the house is zeroing in especially on many of those suburban congressional seats currently held by Republicans that they believe they can flip in order to add them to the Democratic column and put the Democrats in the leadership of the United States house.
Now, you need to note something. That means that there is actually very little democratic party expectation of flipping non-suburban and non-urban seats. Now, the northern and the coastal urban seats are primarily in Democratic hands already.
They're already in the Democratic column. The question is how many of the suburban districts can be flipped. If you're looking at the data coming in, for instance, The Wall Street Journal front page article in the recent days, we are told that interest is surging in the midterm elections, but looking at the kind of data accessible to pollsters and others, it really isn't clear which of the parties has the greater momentum.
If you look at slices of the electorate, the question is more readily answered. Younger voters, trending Democratic. Older voters, trending Republican. Urban voters, trending Democratic. Rural voters, trending Republican. The suburban voters, well, that's the big question, but the answer is going to come down to a limited number of those suburban congressional districts which are actually in play.
As you're thinking about Tuesday's elections and as you are watching the returns, keep in mind that it's all going to come down to a relative handful of congressional districts. The Democratic party right now is rather confident that it can reclaim leadership of the United States house.
It doesn't need that many seats. Less than 30 swing seats of congressional districts would shift the leadership in the house to a Democratic leadership. Now, at this point, we need to recognize that would be a seismic shift, a seismic change on the current political landscape because the party that controls the House of Representatives has a great deal to do with setting the national agenda.
Now, you might say we have a strong executive. The constitutional impulse towards energy in the executive. The leadership of the House of Representatives is far less significant. Even the speaker of the House of Representatives than the president of United States.
The answer to that would be, "Of course, that is right." The president is the chief executive and the head of state. The president has the entire executive branch under presidential authority, but here's where we also need to recognize that a party in opposition in the House of Representatives can slow down if not stopped almost every single administration.
The evidence you need for that is the shift to the House of Representatives to Republican leadership during the presidency of President Bill Clinton. That changed the American political landscape and it changed the presidency of Bill Clinton.
The leadership of both parties especially the political strategic leadership in the parties recognized that Americans don't pay enough attention to these congressional elections. They don't pay enough attention to the midterm elections.
Voters are fascinated with presidential election cycles, but when you think about what actually happens or what doesn't happen in American politics, these midterm elections are crucial. There is the danger. Both parties recognize this of their own political bases failing to understand how important this election cycle is.
It's been very clear in recent weeks that President Trump has come to the conclusion that these midterm elections are indeed very important. This comes against the background that at least at this point the math and the map in the Senate have been working in the Republican favor.
Also, it's very interesting to know that all of the attention to the United States Senate over the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, "If anything, it has tended to favor the advantage of the Republicans in the United States Senate."
The political analysts on both parties right now see the odds of Democrats claiming the house to be relatively high, but the odds of Republicans holding on to the Senate to be even higher, but the other thing that Christians must understand is that even though the national media give disproportionate attention even in midterm elections to national office, that's rather understandable.
In many ways, some of the most important elections are statewide especially the election of the governors in several strategic states. If you look back over the last generation, a part of the big change in America's political picture has been the rise of Republican governors.
Even in states that have had historically a longer tradition of Democratic governors in modern politics. Why is that important? Well, its because Republicans have been playing the long game now for two generations. That long game is to elect the state houses and to elect governors because together, the state houses and the governors produce the political class coming from the state, they begin to define the politically possible and when it comes to the House of Representatives, they establish by state authority the congressional districts.
The reality is that the political map, both parties would recognize this has been shifted into a more Republican picture nationwide because of Republican victories in the state houses and in the state governorships. The gubernatorial elections have always been interesting, but perhaps never so interesting as in 2018 in modern American politics.
Just take two states, the states of Georgia and Florida. In both of those states, the almost unbelievable has happened in 2018. The Democratic candidate in both of these states is a very liberal candidate. In both of these states, the Democratic candidates have run from and have run to the left wing of the Democratic party.
Throughout most of modern American politics, that would have been unthinkable even for the Democrats in Georgia and in Florida, but not in 2018. There is also the reality that both of these nominees, the Democratic nominees in Georgia and in Florida are African-American.
If Stacey Abrams is elected the new governor in Georgia, she would become the first African-American woman in American history to be elected governor. If Andrew Gillum is elected governor in Florida, he would become the first African-American governor of that state, one of the most crucial states on the American electoral and political maps.
In both of those states, Georgia and in Florida, the opposing candidates on the Republican side are closely identified with President Donald Trump. In both cases, President Trump personally intervened in the Republican primary process to leapfrog underdog candidates into the winning position.
That would be Brian Kemp in Georgia and Ron DeSantis in Florida. In both cases, you are looking at Georgia and at Florida at what could be microcosms of the 2020 presidential election in the United States. For Christians, more important than anything else is understanding that every single election is a contest of world views.
Of course, it's a contest between political parties. Of course, it is a matter of competition between two candidates, the Democrat and the Republican in most races. Of course, it is a contest of ideas and policies and partisan platforms, of course it is, but more than that, Christians have to understand it is a battle of world views.
It is an ideological divide. Even though that has been true in American politics virtually from the beginning, it is even more acutely true now. Even as Christians think about this, we tend to go immediately to the most controversial issues. Issues such as human sexuality, marriage, abortion, but we also need to recognize that the issues that are often not considered laden with moral or cultural interest, issues such as the economy, national defense, foreign policy, you could go down the list.
This is where Christians must understand that there are basic theological presuppositions that actually divide the two parties and the two different political polarities on those issues as well. What does it mean to be a human being? What exactly defines human dignity? What does it mean for human beings to be economic actors?
What kind of behavior should be economically, politically, socially rewarded? What kind of behavior should be sanctioned? What should the law require? What should be legal? What should be illegal? To what extent should the law seek to control private moral behavior?
To what extent does the law surrender all responsibility for governing these kinds of issues. How exactly do we define liberty or freedom? Is it freedom to or is it freedom from? Is it positive liberty or is it negative liberty?
The two political parties don't always have absolutely coherent arguments consistent on all these points, but in reality in America, by the time you get to 2018, the two organized political parties are operating out of two very well-defined and increasingly coherent sets of worldviews.
The unavoidable human equation: When casting a ballot, are we voting for personality, character, or ideas?
Just a few days ago, the Financial Times of London ran a huge article. It's really interesting to see how others see us in the United States in which they looked closely at the gubernatorial election in Florida. They headline of the article, the battle of two Americas. That's really important.
Here you have a major European. In this case, a British newspaper looking at America's midterm elections. By the way, the reality is that the American midterm elections are a vast international consequence and also interest. You have the subhead of this article, "In the US midterm elections in Florida, a progressive Democrat is taking on a Trump acolyte."
The Financial Times reports, "On a political race we are told that exposes the fault lines in today's America." The headline again, the battle of two Americas, but this is just about electing the governor of the state of Florida, but this is where the Financial Times recognizes you're not just talking about the election of one or another individual.
You are talking about the election of one worldview or the opposing worldview. Of one understanding of government and the other understanding of government. You're talking about a matter of consequence, not just between two men who hold the nominations of their respected parties in one state's election for governor, you are talking about two different visions of America.
You're talking about in reality, two different understandings of right and wrong. Two different understandings of the role of government and the rule of law. It's really hard we need to recognize as Christians to come up with issues more important to the political question than these.
Over the course of the next several days both on Monday before the election, on election day and in the days after the election, we'll try to come to terms especially in worldview analysis of what Americans say as they go to the polls on Tuesday and what this means for our nation, but even today, we need to recognize that there's another issue that is often right under the surface in an election cycle such as this.
The question comes down to, "Who are the human beings in these races? Who are the candidates? What is their character? What is their personality?" We're looking at a question that has been very much a part of the American political equation from the very beginning of this nation's experience.
Are we electing a party? Are we electing ideas? Are we electing a worldview or are we electing a human being? The reality is in every case, we're electing a human being. That human being does come with a world view. We need to understand.
That human being does come with policies and ideas, but that human being also comes with experiences, comes out of a specific context and demonstrate a certain character. Also, personality. This is where voters are sometimes very attracted to a more attractive personality regardless of the positions held by either the voter or the candidate.
That just makes the political equation all the more complicated and for Christians, all the more interesting. When you have certain candidates elected, sometimes you're not really sure if it was the character, if it was the personality or if it was the ideas, but it is abundantly clear that in 2018 and in recent American political cycles, the ideas have genuinely dominated over the character and personality of the candidate.
That's been very much a part of the urgent political conversation in the United States, but 2018, well it appears in this midterm election to be a bipartisan experience in which those questions are going to be unavoidable.
There are so many other issues for us to discuss and to contemplate. We're going to seek to get to those as well, but on this Friday before the midterm elections of 2018 in the United States, it seemed important at least for us to think very clearly about what's at stake in the elections.
Remembering an adage that doesn't come from Christian theology, but certainly is affirmed by Christians who understand the truth. Elections have consequences. Of course, we understand that ideas have consequences. Doctrines have consequences.
Behaviors have consequences, but yes, elections have consequences, but voters who might be disappointed with the outcome of an election have only themselves to blame if they didn't vote in the election that has disappointed them. Yes, character matters, personality matters, ideas matter, world views matter and elections matter.
It just so happens that within just a few days, we're going to find out how all of those realities that matter intersect on election day 2018.
As listeners to The Briefing, you've heard me say that Christians should run toward big questions, not away from them. That's why I'm hosting another Ask Anything Live on Monday, November the 5th at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can submit your questions about the Christian life, theology, ethics, ministry, and just about anything right now at askanythinglive.com. Then tune in Monday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time at facebook.com/albertmohlersbts.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.