Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday, November 29, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is the Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Why the election of the next Speaker matters far beyond the House of Representatives
The late Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill famously said that all politics is local. That statement was so convincing that it has become a bedrock principle of political conviction in Washington, D.C. and beyond. What the late Democratic speaker meant was that politicians are elected by voters who have a local identity. His warning to politicians was that if they consider themselves as members of Congress, or as senators, as primarily national creatures, they would find themselves out of office, because local issues would eventually predominate. Local loyalties would eventually be more important, but of course that is now set aside in so many ways by the advent of the digital age, social media, and the nationalization of everything and everyone. If you look at the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, the most interesting issue is how the larger debate has been not so much local, but national. Was there or was there not a blue wave of Democrats? If it was a blue wave, just how big was it? What does it mean that Democrats will now be in control of the House of Representatives?
What does it mean for the White House? What does it mean for the judiciary that Senate Republicans actually enlarged their majority? What does all of this mean? Just consider what took place yesterday in the Washington Visitor Center of the US Capitol, where the Democrats in the House of Representatives elected for the next Congress met together to nominate who would be their next leadership. The big question here was whether or not the former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, would gain enough votes to ensure that on January the 3rd, when the new Congress convenes, she would have an adequate number of votes to ensure that she would be elected Speaker. That didn't happen. The big news story coming out of Washington yesterday is that though Nancy Pelosi won a convincing plurality, a very clear majority of the votes of the Democrats who will serve in the new Congress in the House, she did not receive the 218 votes necessary to be elected the House Speaker. If the numbers hold, there will be at least 235 Democratic members of the House. 218 are required to elect a Speaker. 203 voted yesterday in the House Democratic Caucus for Nancy Pelosi as their new leader.
The gap between 218 and 203 is exactly the gap that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to fulfill, and she faces some very dangerous weeks ahead, because that length of time provides the opportunity for a challenger to emerge. A challenger who may be able to topple her from the Democratic side for the leadership of the United States house. This gets to what many voters, even Christian voters, thinking that they think in worldview analysis, and with political responsibility, fail to recognize. When you elect members of Congress, you are electing not just an individual, and this is true of the Senate, but in this case, what is most crucial is the House. When you elect a member of Congress, or even when you cast your vote in that election, you are voting not only for an individual, but inevitably, you are voting for a party. In the United States, we do not have a parliamentary system of government. We are a representative democracy with three different independent and coequal branches of government, at least in theory, but when it comes to the House of Representatives, that part of the judicial branch, the leadership inside the House is determined by the majority party.
To what extent? Almost to every extent. This is what many voters fail to understand. When the Democrats are in the majority in the United States House, the Democrats have the opportunity to elect the Speaker, but not just that. The majority party holds every single committee and subcommittee chairmanship. That is absolutely crucial, because what many Americans don't recognize is that for legislation to reach the floor of the United States House of Representatives, it has to pass several different barriers, all of them, every single one of them established by the party that holds the majority. There can be no moving forward without the House Democratic Caucus determining now that it will move forward. It can't move forward without the appropriate subcommittee, and then the appropriate committee allowing it to move forward. The chairpersons of those subcommittees and those committees then hold inordinate, massive power, and the people within those Congressional districts that elected the Congress people, they did not elect that leadership. Rather, the majority party does.
That's what many voters fail to understand. The political stewardship is not just about electing individuals. It is about how many members will eventually be the majority and whether or not that majority is Democratic or Republicans matters massively. You have some Americans who simply seem, in so far as they're engaged on these issues at all, to believe that they're just electing a member of Congress, that that is the limitation of their stewardship, without recognizing that what we saw in Washington yesterday is really setting the stage for everything that will, and everything that will not happen in the United States Congress on the side of the House for the next two years. The situation is actually even more acute than that, because of what is called the Hastert Rule. This was passed by the Republican majority in the House during the time that Dennis Hastert of Illinois was the Speaker of the House. The so-called Hastert Rule says that in order for legislation to move forward, it must have such a commanding number of the votes in the majority that there is virtually no risk that the legislation can be lost. It will not even require a bipartisan agreement.
If you operate on that rule, here's what becomes crucial. We are as a nation moving closer to a parliamentary system of government, further away from the kind of vision that was reflected in the Constitution of the United States. This also means that when you look at a figure such as the Speaker of the House, you are looking at a figure of massive importance even beyond the position as defined in the Constitution.
The drama of dealmaking: Why?
So, when you're looking at Nancy Pelosi and the fact that she was making her play to regain the speaker ship with the new Democratic majority, the big question is, what will the future of the Democratic majority in the House be? Here's where it gets really interesting. What has taken place in the Democratic Caucus after the election is the question of whether or not the leadership will be of the left or of the further left, or the even further left. That's the divide that remains after the caucus meeting on Wednesday. That's the divide between 203 and 218, but that then leads to something else. How in the world would a figure like Nancy Pelosi gain an adequate number of votes, especially when there is a clear challenge–not yet a challenger, but a clear challenge to her leadership? She does so by cutting deals, so you had major mainstream media over the last several days raising the question as to what political price will be exacted by members of Congress who have the leverage of saying to the Speaker, "I will vote for you, but only if you give me what I demand." It's been clear, Nancy Pelosi has been giving many wavering Democrats exactly what they demand. The political dance has been going on, has been people who said, "I will not vote, I shall never vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker," who come out and say after a meeting with her, "You know, it just makes sense to continue her leadership of the House Democratic Caucus." Some deal has been made, and what's really interesting is the fact there is no one who is denying it. It's not hidden. It's pretty much right out in public. The headlines that came after the Democratic meeting yesterday included this one, from the Wall Street Journal. Democratic Caucus backs Nancy Pelosi as next House Speaker.
As you look at the article, they haven't backed her enough yet. The Washington Post, quote, "Democrats nominate representative Nancy Pelosi for Speaker, a show of strength that will be tested when the full House votes in January." The New York Times. Democrats nominate Pelosi to be speaker, but with significant defections, but by far, the most interesting article was in the front page of yesterday's edition of the Times, an article by Sheryl Gay Stolburg and Ashton W. Herndon. Here's the headline. Risk for Pelosi is owing debt to the liberal left. Wait just a minute. What does it mean for the New York Times to describe the threat to the Speaker as the liberal left? As it turns out, those two words put together don't make a whole lot of sense in the New York Times headline, but the general tenor of what's being communicated is clear enough. The threat to the liberal former Speaker are those who do not believe that she is sufficiently liberal. Since those are the votes she has to get in order to be reelected as Speaker, the deals she has to make are with people to her left. That's from a worldview analysis what gets really interesting.
How far left do you have to go to be significantly left of Nancy Pelosi? The point made by the reporters for the New York Times is that in making these deals with those who are to her left, Nancy Pelosi may have sowed the seeds for her own political complications. It can be argued that the very same thing happened when you look at the Republican leadership, when Republicans were in majority in the House, when deals made with those to the right of the Speaker often led to complications in moving legislation forward. The big dynamic now is on the Democratic party side. The big question is, how far left will the new House majority go? That's where the story just gets more interesting as we take it to the next level, and take it beyond just the vote of the House Democratic Caucus. We take it beyond the question of the future Speaker of the House, and turn to the future of the nation, and look at what is happening on the liberal side of the political, cultural, and moral equation.
Liberal parents, radical kids: The generational divide in America is a worldview divide
In this case, we turn to a brilliant editorial written by David Brooks in the New York Times. I often find David Brooks to come right up to the brink of the truth, and then to avoid it, but in this case, he sees it clearly, and he makes the point very clear. The headline of his article, liberal parents, radical kids. He begins by writing, "When I meet someone who runs an organization in a blue state, I often ask, do you have a generation gap where you work? The answer, whether the person leads a college, a nonprofit, a tech company, an entertainment company, or a publication, is generally the same. Yes, and it's massive." Here's what makes Brooks's piece particularly interesting. Quote, "The managers at these places who are generally 35 and above are liberals. They vote Democratic and cheer on all the proper causes of the left, but some of the people under 35 are not liberals, but rather are militant progressives. The older people in the organization often have nicknames for the younger set, the resistance, Al Jazeera, the revolutionaries. The young militants are the ones," he says, "who stage the protests if someone does something deemed wrong."
He points back to a book I had remembered from the 1970s as soon as I saw the headline in his opinion people. Midge Decter wrote a book that was entitled Liberal Parents, Radical Children. David Brooks basically drops the reference to Midge Decter right there, but I remember reading that book over a generation ago, and recognizing that was exactly what I had observed as a college student, even as a high school student in the 1970s in the United States. Liberal parents, democratic liberal parents in the mold of, say, an FDR, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had children, especially young Baby Boomer children of the 1960s, who were not liberals. They were radicals, but speaking of that book by Midge Decter in the 1970s, Brooks said we're seeing a similar chasm today. He points out that a great deal of the chasm has to do with whether or not American society is basically sound, and equalities need to be addressed through the existing political system, or whether or not the political system itself has to be replaced. He calls this meliorism, is a question as to whether or not the system needs to be improved or destroyed.
In the most insightful portion of his article, David Brooks writes, "Two great belief systems are clashing here. The older liberals tend to be individualistic and meritocratic. A citizen's job is to be activist, compassionate, and egalitarian. Boomers generally think they earned their success through effort and talent." Then Brooks continues, "The younger militants tend to have been influenced by the cultural Marxism that is now the lingua franca in the elite academy. Group identity is what matters. Society is a clash of oppressed and oppressor groups. People who are successful usually got that way through some form of group privilege and a legacy of oppression." Brooks concludes with these words: “Whether on the left or the right, younger people have emerged in an era of lower social trust, less faith in institutions, a greater awareness of group identity. They live with the reality of tribal political warfare, and are more formed by that warfare. I guess,” he says, “the final irony is this: liberal-educated Boomers have hogged the spotlight since Woodstock, but now events are driven by the oldsters who fuel Trump, and the young wokesters who drive the left. The Boomers finally got the top jobs, but feel weak and beleaguered.” He doesn't say this, but at the top of that list has to be Nancy Pelosi. I think this is one of the most important articles that David Brooks has written in a very long time. He is onto something here that we should understand very, very clearly. The distinction between the left and the far left is not just a question of degree or intensity. It is indeed a clash of pictures of the world, a class of worldviews, as David Brooks recognizes. It's between the older left, that would be the children of the Roosevelt children, who understand American society to be about individual rights, about human dignity, defined in those terms, about a meritocracy where if people are given equal opportunity, they will then move towards a more equal outcome, and the contrast with the younger wokesters, he calls them here, the more militant progressives of the younger, liberal generation who are saying the system itself is broken.
It's all about oppressor and oppressed. There is only group identity that matters, and we are going to have to throw out this system, and get something new. Sometime in the future, we're going to look at a similar kind of generational tension on the cultural and moral right in the United States, but right now that's less interesting because of this new Democratic majority, and of the fact that there has been a shift in national direction, especially as reflected in this Congressional election, towards looking to the future of the left, rather than the future of the right, especially for the next two years in Congress. At this point Christians should also take a longer historical view and understand that on the left, this isn't as new as this article might indicate. That very book by Midge Decter from the 1970s should serve to make that point pretty clearly. Liberal parents, radical children. Instead this has been the tension on the left, going back to the last decades of the nineteenth century. We need to remember that modern political liberalism as we know it was intended to be not only an answer to the right, but an answer to the radical left.
In the early twentieth century, that meant a liberal alternative to anarchy, and anarchism, and for most of the twentieth century, that meant a liberal alternative to Marxism and communism. It's really interesting to note how the same tensions tend to show up again, and again, and again. If you remember the Occupy Wall Street movement from just several years ago on the left, that was again a resurgence of anarchy, and certain anarchist kinds of instincts are still to be found on the radical left amongst the younger generation. Also even more prevalent is an understanding of the increased attraction of at least what the younger generation on the left thinks is socialism. The crucial issue here is that they generally do not demonstrate any real understanding of what socialism is, but they are demonstrating a fact that they want to push to the further left. Whether that's the Bernie Sanders Democratic socialist left, or what is more interesting than anything else, the fact that several incoming members of the Democratic Caucus in the House in 2018 are to the left of Bernie Sanders, and his presidential campaign in 2016.
Before leaving this issue, I do want to point to the candor, again, in David Brooks's article. Speaking of the younger militants on the left, he says they, "Tend to have been influenced by the cultural Marxism that is now the lingua franca of the elite academy." What's so important there is that David Brooks, in the pages of the New York Times, uses that important phrase, cultural Marxism, and he means it. The background of that is the fact that so many of the left are saying that cultural Marxism is the boogie man of the right, that it's an invented position amongst conservatives, but that is not so, and David Brooks says so right here in the pages of the New York Times. What is driving the left is indeed nothing less than a form of cultural Marxism, which has been taught on college and university campuses for a long time, and is now, as he says, the lingua franca. It is the symbolic universe in which the younger progressives live.
Watch out—Kentucky politician proposes expanded gambling as the financial fix
Next, I want to turn to a headline story that reveals the logic of government, at least the traditional logic of an ever-expanding government. The logic especially of those who are making the argument that all government needs is more money, and of course, they propose ways for government to get just that. This is a local headline here in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Courier Journal, the local newspaper, ran a story with the headline, “Beshear lawmakers legalize gambling to help fix pension system.” We talked about the kind of political deal making related to the story about who will be the Speaker of the House, but just consider the kind, the level, the dimension of political deal making that is revealed just in that single headline from the Courier Journal. Again, “Beshear”–that's Andy Beshear, the state's Attorney General, now a candidate for Governor, his father was the Governor some years ago–“legalize gambling to help fix the pension system.” The reporter in this case, Tom Loftus, writes, "Attorney General Andy Beshear sent a letter to state lawmakers asking them to legalize casinos and sports betting as the way to raise money to save Kentucky's ailing public pension system."
Let's be really clear. This is a public pension system that is ailing. If you add together Kentucky's eight pension plans, you are adding up to a shortfall, in Kentucky, of $42.7 billion. This is the state of Kentucky. It is not one of the most populous. It is not one of the richest states in the United States, but when a state like Kentucky reports $42.7 billion in unfunded liabilities and public pensions, you're looking at a state that has been spending money it doesn't have, it won't have, and that future generations will not have. In his two-page letter to the legislators, the Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate said, "The solution is not to cut legally promised benefits. The answer is simple." By the way, I'm just going to stop here and say, watch your pocketbook any time a politician says an answer is simple, because what it's going to mean is, simply raising taxes or finding more money for government to spend, but I go back to the article. Quote, "The answer is simple. Expanded gaming, including casino, fantasy sports, and sports gaming, as well as preparing for the eventual legalization of online poker."
Wait just a minute. When you're talking about the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, you're talking about the state's chief law enforcement officer, but here you're talking about the Attorney General, more importantly in this case, the gubernatorial candidate, arguing that the way out of this awful political, financial deficit, unfunded liabilities approaching $50 billion is, well, here it is, he says it's simple, legalize casino gambling, and eventually sports betting and online poker. There you have it. His argument is simply turn to gambling. Yes, it's simple. It's simply horrifying, but that is exactly the logic that we see here, and we see two big problems with it. First of all, you have the instinct that the only way out of a problem is for government to spend even more money. Completely inconceivable to many in this age is the fact that government just might be overreaching and overspending, but this is where Christians understand that as much as government is necessary, it's one of God's gifts, it is a God-ordained institution, it is to be a limited institution.
One of the clearest insights of Christians throughout political history is understanding that when the state is larger, so also is its threat to the liberty and the dignity of individual citizens. Loftus, in his reporting for the Courier Journal, reminds us, "Beshear's father, Governor Steve Beshear, made a proposal for expanded gambling the centerpiece of his successful 2007 campaign for governor, but Steve Beshear's repeated failed attempts show the difficulty in winning passage of a measure to legalize casino gambling through the general assembly, a body more conservative now than it was when Steve Beshear was governor." Later in the article, Loftus writes, "Bashear's letter makes familiar arguments for expanding gambling, primarily that Kentuckians are already wagering big money at casinos in five neighboring states, including Indiana. It does not estimate how much money legal casinos would generate for Kentucky, Loftus wrote, but in Beshear's words, "Commercial gaming in Indiana last year netted over $600 million in direct tax revenue. He said that adding legalized sports betting could offer another $30 million in annual revenue to offset the pension shortfall.
Let's note the argument here, and let's analyze it quickly. Here you have the argument that the only way out of having too little money for the government to spend is for the government to get more money. These pensions were promised. There is no indication here of any support by the Attorney General for pension reform. Instead, the answer is increase access to gambling in a state that already has numerous aspects of legalized gambling. Let's just remember the Kentucky Derby. Here's an argument to fund the government at even higher levels by enticing more citizens to lose more of their money, now in casino gambling, and sports betting, and online poker. It's the kind of argument made by someone who seems always to believe that more government is better, that giving government more money, more money from its citizens, is better, and that enticing citizens to lose their money is better.
We also know as Christians that gambling is not only morally wrong, but it is regressive. It has a disproportionate impact upon those who are least able to lose money. It leads to all kinds of pathologies within the community. It leads to a generalized moral breakdown by incentivizing activity that does not lead to wealth and financial security, and instead incentivizing the very activities that undermine the work ethic, and the kind of financial stability that every state should want for all of its citizens.
The incumbent governor Matt Bevin has pledged through his spokesperson once again to oppose any such expansion, and he got right to the heart of the issue when the spokesman said, "Funding alone will not solve the problem," and that's fundamentally important. There is no way to solve a huge moral and political problem simply by throwing money, not to mention, throwing money gotten by enticing citizens to lose their money. There is a final note. Just simply observe the fact that the attorney general and governor candidate had indicated that Kentucky is simply losing out because Kentucky citizens are losing their money to other states. It's a very odd argument, and and one impossible to justify in moral terms. We should entice people to lose their money in our state, not to lose it in a neighboring state. Just remember that long list of expanded gambling that the attorney general suggested: casino, fantasy sports, sports gaming, as well as the eventual legalization of online poker. This kind of proposal is exactly what will turn state after state into just one large, government-sponsored casino.
Thanks for listening the the Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You could 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.