Friday, Feb. 1, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, February 1, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Democrats enraged as Howard Schultz considers 2020 presidential bid. Is there a path for a candidate who is socially liberal and economically conservative?
Over the next several weeks and months we're going to have plenty to consider as the 2020 presidential campaigns begin to unfold. Within a relatively short amount of time we're going to know the virtual sum, the set of those who are going to be running for the Democratic presidential nomination. We're going to have a pretty good idea of at least the personalities and the ideas and the platforms that are going to be competing for the attention of the Democratic party, particularly competing for its eventual presidential nomination.
There's going to be a lot to consider, especially as the Democratic party is marching to the left, and that sets the context for a very interesting development that took place this week that tells us a great deal about the United States. That is the announced candidacy, or at least the consideration, that has been announced of a candidacy by the founder of Starbucks and its former CEO, Howard Schultz.
Schultz has been giving interviews. He has hired political consultants. The billionaire is considering a run, but not for the Democratic presidential nomination. No, Schultz is considering a run as an Independent. But almost all of the blow back has been coming from Democrats, and therein lies a very important story.
The headlines tell us a great deal of the story just by themselves. A headline of an opinion piece in the New York Times by David Leonhardt, "The Howard Schultz Delusion." Michelle Goldberg, liberal columnist writing in the same paper, the headline, "Howard Schultz, Please Don't." William Galston, a policy consultant and advisor to the Democrats, he wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled, "An Open Letter to Howard Schultz."
Yesterday's edition of The Wall Street Journal included an article with the headline, "Schultz's Presidential Bid Brews Trouble for Starbucks." The point of this article is that major Democrats are threatening a boycott of the company that Schultz founded and previously served as CEO simply in outrage that he would dare to run an Independent campaign.
What's the big story here? Well the big story is the fact that Howard Schultz has indicated that even as he is socially liberal, he is by his own definition fiscally conservative. In his conversation, in interviews and in his public announcements about his consideration of a Presidential run, Howard Schultz says he sees an opening, given the 40% of Americans who identify as political independents, he sees an opening where there might be a middle section of America, he suggests, made up of those who are, like himself, socially liberal. That is, liberal on social and moral issues, but at least to some extent conservative when it comes to economics or as another advisor put it, at least not crazy.
In an article published in The New York Times on Monday based on an interview with Schultz, Andrew Ross Sorkin includes comments such as this from the Starbucks founder, "We have a broken political system with both parties basically in business to preserve their own ideology without a recognition and responsibility to represent the interests of the American people." He continued, "Republicans and Democrats alike, who no longer see themselves as part of the far extreme of the far right and the far left, are looking for a home. The word Independent for me," he said, "is simply a designation on the ballot.”
Schultz, given his positions, was asked whether or not he might run as a Democrat for the Democratic nomination said, "I feel if I ran as a Democrat I would have to be disingenuous and say things that I don't believe because the party has shifted so far to the left." Schultz continued, "When I hear people espousing free government paid college, free government paid healthcare, and a free government job for everyone, on top of a $21 trillion debt, the question is how are we paying for all of this and not bankrupting the country?"
Now that statement taken on its own would at least represent some effort at fiscal responsibility, certainly as Schultz understands, in contrast with the kind of language, the kind of arguments coming from the Democratic Party these days. Coming not just from those who might be described as on the Democratic left, but even though leftists coming from what is now understood to be the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
You might say in this context that Howard Schultz holds to the kind of political identity that would have in a previous generation been identified with President Bill Clinton. But Bill Clinton is now far outside the mainstream economically of the proposals of the Democratic Party.
So why would the Democrats be so outraged that Howard Schultz might be considering a run as an Independent? Well, it is simple when you look at the map and consider the Electoral College. Schultz's entry into the race is not likely to draw many votes away from any Republican nominee and particularly from Donald Trump. But his entry into the race as an Independent might really threaten to pull votes away from the eventual Democratic nominee.
That's why in that story that ran Monday in The New York Times the Chairwoman of the state Democratic Party of Washington State said last week, "I have two words for Howard Schultz on a potential run for President as an independent, just don't." That comes from the chairperson of the Democratic party in Schultz's own state.
But in worldview analysis there are some really big issues here. For example, when Michelle Goldberg, writing from the left, says to Howard Schultz, "Please don't run," she writes this, "Schultz appears to share the conviction endemic among American elites that the country hungers for a candidate who is socially liberal, but fiscally conservative."
Similarly, David Leonhardt, another opinion columnist for the same newspaper, when he writes about the Howard Schultz delusion, writes this, "When members of the National Media, whose incomes also tend to be above average, described the prototypical centrist voter, this is the same image they often have in mind, socially liberal and economically conservative."
But Leonhardt then writes, "But it's a big myth. True," he says, "Many high income voters are socially liberal and economically conservative. They aren't particularly religious, and generally agree with the Democratic party on social issues like abortion, affirmative action and immigration. On economic issues though," he writes, "these affluent voters lean to the center, if not the right. They don't talk of 70% marginal tax rates, and they favor cuts to Medicare and Social Security, which they describe as entitlement reform."
He continues, "Many commentators share these views and they commit a classic version of the pundit fallacy. They confuse their own beliefs with the country's. They fool themselves into thinking that socially liberal and economically conservative is a good campaign strategy."
So where's the worldview analysis? Well, it comes down to this. Is there really a plausible platform for someone who is socially liberal but fiscally conservative? Well, the answer shows up in these several articles. Yes, there is such a possible profile, but it would have to be found amongst those who operate from a basically secular worldview, or you might say a theologically liberal or secular worldview. And thus there would be people who would say, "Yes, I'm socially liberal. I'm for same sex marriage. I'm for the entire LBGTQ array. I'm for abortion on demand. I am for well, you know, the entire social agenda."
"But," they say, "On the other hand, I don't believe in adding to the deficit that will be handed down to our children. I don't believe in irresponsible government spending," and yes, there are people like that. But Goldberg and Leonhardt are really on to something. I think they're right when say there aren't that many people who hold to that particular profile in the electorate.
The worldview analysis when asked the question, why? Well, it is because amongst conservatives who hold to a conservative understanding on economics and generally also, a conservative understanding of moral issues, they're tied together by a common worldview. You really can't just sever the two because there is a conservative affirmation of the role of government and of the proper kind of taxation and the way an economy ought to work.
There really does go hand in hand with understanding so many of the most pressing moral issues of our day. It explains to a great extent why the word conservative is a coherent worldview and why conservatives, it shows up right in the articles from The New York Times that I cited, why conservatives, tending to be religious, we'll just use that word because it's word used in the articles, tend to be more conservative across the board. And liberals, on the other hand, also tend to be more liberal across the board.
So as you're looking at the Republican and the Democratic parties, not synonymous with conservative and liberal, but basically becoming so, you see that the increasing sense of the definition of those parties is towards a certain consistency. What's going on in the Democratic party right now is a sifting out towards greater consistency.
But in addition, in worldview and political analysis, we need to consider that segment of the population as a percentage that Howard Schultz is suggesting he might target for a presidential run. That would be 40% of Independents. Here's where many political scientists and observers of politics have shot back to Howard Schultz, "You are misreading that number."
Yes, as you think of voter registration and different kinds of self-designation, it's true that somewhere around 40% of Americans do not identify themselves by partisan affiliation as Democrat or Republican. So, does that mean that that 40% represents a swing in the electorate? The answer is, no. Fundamentally no.
If you look at the last six presidential election cycles, the numbers simply come down without question. There are very few swing voters. There may be a lot of people who do not want to identify as Democrat or Republican, but if you take the last six presidential cycles, the reality is that most Americans who have voted in all six of those cycles have differed in party vote only once or twice, if at all, in that entire process of multiple decades.
One last bit of analysis on the Howard Schultz story, is it really possible for a third party candidate to be elected President of the United States? The answer is almost assuredly not. And the reason is simple, it is the Constitution's provision for the Electoral College. Which means in the main that it's a winner take all electoral process state-by-state. So it's not just the raw numbers of the vote, it's not just the percentage of the popular vote. It would come down to assembling an adequate number of electors in the Electoral College. That is virtually impossible.
Nate Cohn, writing in yesterday's edition of The New York Times, summarizes the history this way, "Since 1860," remember that year, 1860, "only four minor party candidates have won at least 10% of the vote. Ross Perot, George Wallace, Robert LaFollette, and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had the highest percentage, 27.4 in 1912."
Let's just remind ourselves, he had previously served as President of the United States and he came back to vie for the Republican presidential nomination years later, seeking to unseat his chosen successor, William Howard Taft. But Roosevelt did not win the Republican nomination and that was because it wasn't established by primaries, but rather by party leaders at the time. And so he ran as an Independent, famously running as the nominee of what was the called The Bull Moose Party. But even then, Theodore Roosevelt, surely the most famous American of his age, running as an Independent received only 27.4%.
As you consider those four, Nate Cohn rightly summarizes, "What is most notable about the present case," he means Howard Schultz, "is that the conditions for even those modest successes are not in place."
So looking at this story, we come to understand the importance of worldview and why human beings tend towards consistency and why there almost surely aren't that many people who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. We have seen that even though 40% of Americans say that they are not Democrats or Republicans, regardless of what they say, they vote that way. And finally, we have seen that even as a large number of Americans say they are open to the idea of a third party candidate, when it comes to the actual voting, they don't vote that way.
But it is an interesting spectator sport right now to see the Democrats do everything they can to make certain that Howard Schultz doesn't dare run as an Independent.
Seeking to heal the nations, New Age guru Marianne Williamson enters 2020 presidential race
But next, before we turn to the major candidates who will be vying for the Democratic nomination, it's worth noting that one other Democrat has added her name as a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination. That would be New Age guru, Marianne Williamson.
She ran in a failed bid to unseat Henry Waxman for a Congressional seat in California in 2014, but now Williamson announces that she is going to be running for President in order to heal the nations.
Margie Warrell, writing for Forbes, says that Williamson is going to be running a presidential bid "fueled by love that will transcend the politics of fear." Warrell is asking if this is really plausible. She clearly hopes so.
She writes, "After Oprah's rousing acceptance speech at the Golden Globes last year, millions speculated (and many prayed) that she was laying the ground for a 2020 Presidential bid. She has since dispelled rumors of such a run. However, her close friend, fellow spiritual teacher and activist Marianne Williamson, officially announced on Monday evening that she is taking the bold leap into the political fray, running for the Democratic nomination in 2020."
Now the next paragraph tells us a great deal. "Williamson, whose first book A Return to Love shot her to prominence in 1992, may not share Oprah's celebrity, yet her deeply entrenched spiritual value system and maxim to ‘choose love over fear’ is one that will likely appeal to many Oprah loyalists."
Now I have engaged in conversation with Marianne Williamson in joint appearances we have done on national television. But that really was decades ago, which makes the point that she really did rise to prominence back in 1992 with the publication of her first book, A Return To Love. Since then, she became also known for her three volume work, A Course In Miracles. If any one person represents the New Age movement at its apex in the late 20th century in the United States, it's Marianne Williamson.
Ian Lovett, writing for The New York Times back in 2013 when Marianne Williamson announced that she was running for Congress, mentioned that if elected she would "almost surely be Congress's first New Age guru." At a campaign appearance back then, Williamson said, "I'm sure they're going to say I'm a New Age nutcase, dragon lady, lightweight thinker."
Indeed, you might consider those words a self-fulfilling prophecy. She went on in her political platform to talk about all kinds of issues. She said, "America has swerved from its ethical center. Most of us want to feel that we can have a progressive conversation and contextualize it morally." What would be the next sentence? "To me, drone use is a moral issue."
Later in his article back 2013, Lovett wrote that Ms. Williamson was advocating "free college, universal healthcare, universal preschool, gay marriage, an end to domestic nuclear energy production, and massive investment in renewable energy." My favorite part in Lovett's article is that after Marianne Williamson set out this platform, a man simply responded to her, "You need new voters, I think."
Well, time will tell if in 2020 those new voters have shown up, looking for a New Age guru as President, promising the healing of the nations.
Secularism’s “us vs. them” worldview: How an attack on Pentecostalism becomes an attack on biblical Christianity
But finally, as the week comes to an end, we turn to a very interesting development in Australia. A magazine there known as The Monthly has published an article entitled, "The Devil and Scott Morrison." Scott Morrison is the current Prime Minister of Australia. And this magazine article, written by an author who is named James Boyce, well, it turns out that he is, of all things, a member of a Pentecostal church. And according to this article, Pentecostals actually believe in a real devil and this story is really interesting.
Boyce writes, "In his first major speech as Prime Minister, Scott Morrison pointed to his heart and told Australians that 'I've come to talk to you today about what's in here.' Striding the Albury stage, calling for people to love each other and pray for rain, Morrison looked like the Pentecostal pastor he might have become if his father had not counseled against studying at a Canadian Bible college after university. But the truth is," says Boyce, "that Morrison has told the Australian public almost nothing about what his heartfelt beliefs really are."
Boyce then continues, "Secrecy concerning his religious beliefs has characterized his political career. For instance, Australians still don't know where or when Morrison was baptized in the Holy Spirit. This detail," says the author, "might seem trivial compared with the implications of his unstated beliefs on policy matters, yet it is the most celebrated experience in a Pentecostal's life. While the lack of disclosure reflects political self-interest, it is also a characteristic of Pentecostalism itself."
Now let me be clear, I am ready to offer my own theological critique of Pentecostalism and its tendency towards theological aberration, but the importance of this article doesn't have a great deal to do with Pentecostalism, per se, but that Pentecostalism becomes a stand-in in this article published in one of the most secular cultures on the planet for anyone who believes in any kind of theological certainty and a literal devil, that Christ is coming again. Well, further in the article, all of this is made abundantly clear.
What we need to note is how James Boyce, the author of this article, defines mainstream Christianity and everything that might be an alternative to that mainstream. He writes, "Pentecostalism is obsessed with the Devil to an extent that is heretical to mainstream Christianity. 'Satan' is not an abstract idea but a highly personal fallen angel who, through his ability to manipulate and direct nonbelievers, largely runs the 'world.'" World is actually put, for some reason, in quotation marks. "To be baptized in the Spirit is to be personally conscripted into the struggle, intimately experienced in daily life, between the forces of good and ever-present evil."
"The 24/7 cosmic drama," he writes, "is made more intense by the fact that the play is soon coming to an end. The Devil is powerful now but he is on the verge of defeat. Only God knows exactly when Jesus will return and banish Satan to Hell, but most Pentecostals are certain that the end times are upon us."
Pointing to the confession of faith behind the larger group of which the Prime Minister is a part, I read, "The statement affirms belief in 'the personality of the devil, who, by his influence, brought about the downfall of man, and now seeks to destroy the faith of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.' Those who have not accepted Christ are 'depraved and without spiritual life' and destined for eternal torment. The contrast between those 'consigned to everlasting punishment' and those whose names are to be 'found written in the book of life' is absolute."
The importance of the article is very clear when just after saying all of that, we are told that those beliefs are "contrary to the teachings of the mainstream Protestant denominations," he means in Australia, "and the Catholic Church."
Now, in case we don't understand what he means here, he makes the point emphatically clear. "Furthermore, in these denominations, people in the pews are usually no longer expected to accept at face value all the words that underpin their creed, and even priests are not required to defend or uphold every doctrine." So now you see what this writer believes is mainstream Christianity. Christianity that has no particular theological doctrines whatsoever. That doesn't have any particular truth claims. Where the people in the pews are not expected to believe everything that the creeds and confessions indicate and where even the clergy are liberated from any kind of actual theological accountability to beliefs and truth claims.
The entire importance of this article appearing in this magazine in Australia is to effectively out the nation's Prime Minister as holding to an aberrant form of Christianity. And again, I will offer in extensive form my own critique of Pentecostalism, but when you read the article, you discover that's not really essentially what's at stake here. It is the belief in a literal devil. It is belief in the Bible as the literal word of God. It is belief in certain doctrines, including the fact that there are those who are lost and those who are saved and that the crucial distinction is a personal confession of the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
In the sense of this article, belief in a literal hell means that you are way outside the mainstream. Holding to any of these doctrines, so awkward in a contemporary secular age, is simply written off as some kind of political subterfuge. The Australian people, Boyce is indicating, really need to pay attention to what their Prime Minister believes. In a literal devil, in a literal truth, in a literal Gospel and people going to a literal hell unless they come to an actual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, and you might know that this is going to be tied to specific policy issues and political questions. For instance, climate change. Boyce writes, "Belief in Satan and the imminent return of Christ also helps explain the Prime Minister's less-than-passionate response to the most pressing environmental issue of our time."
And you might expect he won't stop there. "It is also likely," he writes, "that Morrison has a level of skepticism about empirical science in general. One of the core doctrines of the religious group is that 'all original life forms, including humanity, were made by the specific immediate creative acts of God and that all biological changes which have occurred since creation are limited to variation within species.' In other words," Boyce writes, "humans and other animals were created by God in their essential form." He then continues, "If Morrison does not believe this, it should be easy enough to say so."
Out yourself! Deny the special creation of human beings, Mr. Prime Minister, or be outed before the Australian people.
But towards the end of the article we turn to this, "The question of salvation is the most sensitive of all these matters. In the Pentecostal worldview, there is a clear delineation between those who are saved and those who are not, those who are accepted by God and those who have spurned his offer of salvation. This is," says the writer, "an outlook that encourages a 'them' and 'us' understanding of human community. It is because this worldview is easily reconciled with that of right-wing populists that our Prime Minister's religion is such a potentially dangerous one."
Now as we come to a conclusion, this is just a very sad commentary on how a secular society, lost in its own secularism, doesn't even understand what Orthodox Christianity is. In this case, there is a subject of concern about Pentecostalism, but the article really doesn't deal with Pentecostal distinctives and aberrations. The central part of the article, when it comes to its conclusion, is an attack upon actual Gospel Christianity.
But finally, let's just note that in this warning about the Prime Minister's radical faith, there is the warning that the Christian understanding of those who are saved and those who are lost, those who hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are forced into an "us" versus "them" worldview.
Well, is that true or is it false? To some extent, of course, it is true. But let's just look at the obvious, the writer of this article also believes in an "us" versus "them" worldview. The "us" in the worldview of this magazine writer would be the secular world that would find it incomprehensible that anyone would believe such things. The "them" would be the Prime Minister of Australia and others who actually hold to these theological beliefs.
There is no worldview that does not include "us" and "them." And that includes the worldview of secularists who insist that the problem with Christianity is "us" versus "them." They can't even write their article criticizing us without using the categories of "us" and "them."
But this article does go a long way in showing how they think of us.
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 on Monday for The Briefing.