Thursday, May 23, 2019
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Changing Plausibility Structures: Joe Biden Reverses His Long-Standing Support of the Hyde Amendment
The sociologist Peter Berger spoke of plausibility structures. These are the basic units of thought that define plausibility. Plausibility doesn't mean that something is true or false, but that it is merely plausible. It's at least imaginable. It establishes the basic framework in which decisions about right and wrong, and other decisions like for whom to vote in an election are made. Plausibility structures become very important when asking the question, would someone 20 years ago understand when you made reference to a same sex marriage? It would not have been plausible. It is plausible now. That doesn't mean it's right. Christians believe that it's not right. But culturally speaking, it's now plausible. On the question of abortion, plausibility has been changing over the years and that is morally important. But as it intersects with politics, we need to understand two recent headlines, both of them published at National Review. National Review is the most venerable, longstanding, traditional, conservative, periodical and journal of opinion in the United States. When National Review speaks, that is the mainstream conservative movement in the United States.
National Review ran an article on April the 21st, the headline was this, “Will Abortion Politics Sink Joe Biden in the Democratic Primary?” The issue raised by John McCormick writing for National Review was whether or not some of the positions that Joe Biden has taken on abortion over the years, they would not be sufficiently to the left of where the mainstream Democratic Party has moved. To put it another way, the plausibility structures of the Democratic Party have changed. It was once plausible for a major figure in the Democratic Party, even considered on the parties left, someone like Joe Biden, to have voted in ways that are now considered moderate. Given the change in the spectrum, not extreme. McCormick was raising the question back on April the 24th as to whether or not that legislative history would be enough to torpedo the primary candidacy of Joe Biden. But McCormick was helpful in being specific about some of the votes that Joe Biden has taken in the past.
As he writes, "Biden repeatedly voted for the ban on partial birth abortion, a particular late term abortion procedure in which a child's body is mostly delivered before her skull is punctured and crushed.” Speaking of the band in 1997 Joe Biden said, "it did not as I would've liked ban all post-viability abortions. I was,” he said, "and still am concerned that in banning only partial birth abortions, we did not go far enough.”
So here we're talking about a long-term politician for decades, a member of the United States from Delaware, a Democrat who is also openly identified as Roman Catholic, who has routinely defied the teachings of his church in order to facilitate abortion in the United States. Underlining a false divide that so many politicians have found a refuge in recent decades, he said that even though he holds his own private religious convictions when it comes to public policy, he is going to vote in a way that he believes is in the public good. Now of course, that's an absolute inconsistency.
If you believe something to be morally right by definition, you believe it to be also for the public good. But the very interesting thing, looking back to 1997, is that Joe Biden then appeared to be apologetic for the fact that even as he voted for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, and that banned the most conceivably reprehensible form of abortion in the United States, he said that, to his regret, the law may not have gone far enough. More importantly, McCormick wrote back on April the 24th, "Biden has repeatedly voted for the Hyde Amendment, which bands federal funding for elective abortions for Medicaid recipients.” He cites Biden as saying, "I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate. Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.” Joe Biden wrote that in a letter to a constituent in 1994. It was at that point that he had served 21 years in the Senate.
You will notice that in the letter to the constituent he used words such as, "I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout his tenure in the Senate.” He went on to articulate the principle, speaking of pro-life citizens, saying that they should not be compelled to pay for abortion. Biden continued, "As you may know, I have consistently on no fewer than fifty occasions voted against federal funding of abortions.” Let's look at that math. Here you had a senator writing in 1994, claiming proudly to have voted consistently, no fewer than fifty times, against the federal funding of abortions.
So why are we talking about this? Well, we're talking about it because that was an article written on April the 24th. In the last few days, you would have to write a very different article. The same writer, John McCormack wrote an article datelined May 19, 2019, that is barely three weeks later. The headline of this one, “Biden Flips on the Hyde Amendment.” But before we turn to the flip, let's consider the position.
Joe Biden had said back in 1997, he proudly claimed that he had voted no less than fifty times against federal funding of abortion, but that was then. This is now. McCormack writes quote, "In what may be his first major move to the left on policy as a 2020 presidential candidate, Democratic front runner, Joe Biden has endorsed repealing the Hyde Amendment, a measure that prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is endangered.”
This has gone largely under the radar. It was not an appearance about abortion, but it became that because at a campaign appearance in South Carolina, a woman identifying herself as an activist for the ACLU, that is the American Civil Liberties Union, addressed him with one pointed question. Will you now oppose the Hyde Amendment? If elected, would you lead in order to eliminate the Hyde Amendment? Which means, would you move as president, so as to remove the only protection in the United States against taxpayers at the federal level being coerced into complicity with abortion?
Pressed for a second time, specifically on the question of the Hyde Amendment, the former vice president said, "It can't stay.” It was clear that Joe Biden did not want to talk about this. He did not want to answer the question. It was also clear, given the political dynamic, that this question was surely going to come, but it is an incredibly revealing moment in our cultural history, not only in Joe Biden's campaign for the Democratic nomination. This is one of those revealing moments coming out of the blue that tells us this is exactly who we now are as a society, as a civilization. It is now no longer plausible for a major candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, even to hold consistently to a longstanding vote pattern in support of the Hyde Amendment. The 2016 Democratic Party platform called for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment, and that meant calling for tax payer funding of abortion. It is important to note the back in 1976 when the Hyde Amendment came into being, it was the product of a very clear and overwhelming bipartisan majority.
The belief then, overwhelming in both parties, was that it would be morally wrong to obligate the American taxpayer to complicity in abortion. But as we have seen, the plausibility structures have shifted radically. Joe Biden becomes the most interesting barometer on this, precisely because he spent over three decades in the Senate and then served for two four year terms as Vice President of the United States. What does that tell us? Well, it tells us how much the plausibility structures have changed in the Democratic Party. And this is also a reflection of the larger culture since Barack Obama successfully ran for President with Joe Biden in 2008. The 2008 election was just barely over 10 years ago, and then it was not only plausible, it was actual. That Joe Biden with his voting record, against taxpayer funding of abortion, would be nominated by the Democratic Party to be his vice presidential candidate. And, that would take place again in 2012. But fast forward to 2019. Joe Biden running for the presidential nomination now has to get in line.
Politically speaking, he has to save his skin by repudiating the very issue that he pointed to with pride back in 1997. And this is one of the big questions of our time. If the plausibility structures have shifted this far, this fast, on the question of abortion, where are we going to be just 10 years from now? As Christians try to think more deeply about what is going on here, the most fundamental issue of our concern is not just what's going on in the Democratic presidential race for the nomination. It's what's going on in the larger society, in that shift of plausibility structures. What becomes plausible now becomes actual in a frighteningly short amount of time, given the velocity of the moral change around us. But we also have to note this, what wasn't plausible a short time ago can become plausible quickly. And when it does become plausible, unless there is some vast correction or change in the landscape, what was implausible, but is now plausible becomes not only plausible but actual.
Why the Sexual Revolution is Sure to Drive the Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates to Target Religious Freedom in 2020
Next, David Marcus writing for The Federalist reminds us of another issue that is going to have to be asked as you look at the political heritage of Democratic candidates. And in particular in this case, the two front runners, former Vice President Joe Biden and current Independent Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. They're number one and number two in the polling right now. The big question in the Marcus asked is whether or not they now support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That's a huge question. It was adopted back in 1993. Again, like the Hyde Amendment, with overwhelming bipartisan support. And both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders supported it, then.
While summarizing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, David Marcus writes, “It is an ingenious little piece of legislation with two major planks. First,” as he writes, "it establishes that if the government is going to compel a person to violate his religious beliefs, it must have a reasonable interest in doing so. Second, and more importantly, once that interest is established, the government must find the least restrictive means possible to achieve that interest.”
This became a very important piece of legislation. It was rightly identified in 1993 as a legislative remedy. The remedy was an answer to a Supreme Court decision. It is simply called now the Smith Decision, that effectively curtailed religious liberty. The United States Congress, and the then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, responded to that Supreme Court decision with explicit legislation that supported, protected and defined the religious liberties of Americans. And as I said, it was so popular that there were very few members of Congress who dared to vote against it. Marcus then writes that this "leaves us with the question of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. It's not 1993 anymore. That's a shame,” he writes, "but it is what it is. Do Biden and Sanders still stand by the idea that the government should go out of its way to not compel people to violate their religious beliefs? Do they still hold that to whatever extent possible? The state should not compel Americans to violate their religious beliefs.”
Marcus then points to an interesting generational observation. Many of us have noted that this is showing up and a remarkable array of issues in the Democratic race. You have so many now declared Democratic candidates who were a long way from public office when these votes came down, for instance, RFRA as it's known, in 1993. They didn't have to take a position on the issue in 1993, they were way too young to be in elected office, but not so for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. It's going to be very interesting to see how they handle this inevitable question, just like on the Hyde Amendment. But it's extremely unlikely, given the logic and the trajectory of the Democratic Party, that either of these two figures is going to be able to offer public support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act now.
The interesting thing is going to be how they're going to eventually answer the question, but right now I want to make a prediction. Here's how they're going to answer the question. They're going to say that they voted in good faith and conscience for the bill in 1993, but that it had, what to them are now, unintended and unexpected consequences. Well to that we need to respond, the consequences were intended and they were exactly what was planned, and that is a protection of religious liberty. But that was then, and this is now, and the sexual revolution is in the driver's seat on the American left, not religious liberty.
Analyzing Kentucky’s Gubernatorial Primary Results: Why the Democratic Candidates in an Overwhelmingly Pro-Life State Must Embrace the Pro-Abortion Movement
Meanwhile, next here in Kentucky, Tuesday was primary day in the Commonwealth. And 2019 is another four year election cycle in this state. Which means that there will be a gubernatorial election come in November, along with an election for other state constitutional offices. The big question is, who would win the Democratic nomination for Governor? The Republican nomination was won by the incumbent, Governor Matt Bevin. Matt Bevin has staked out and has exercised a very clear leadership on behalf of the pro-life movement. He has defended human life, and he has put his reputation on the line. He assigned legislation including a Fetal Heartbeat Bill, and he is also, by executive action, defended the unborn. The interesting question is how the Democratic Party would respond in its primary as that party seeks to regain the Governor's mansion.
There were three major contenders going into Tuesday's primary, two of them were pretty well identified as liberal. That would be, Adam Edelen, and the other would be Andy Beshear.
Edelen is a former state auditor. He was the most liberal or progressive candidate in the race. But also well identified, not only with the Democratic Party, but with its basic political orthodoxy was Andy Beshear, who is the state's current Attorney General. As Attorney General, he has been the major opponent and obstacle to Governor Matt Bevin, especially when it comes to issues related to social and moral questions, such as abortion. The third candidate in the race was Rocky Adkins, and he was actually to the right of Beshear and Edelen, especially on the moral questions including abortion. But the interesting thing to note is that even as Edelen and Beshear were avidly pro-abortion, they would say pro-choice, the reality is that Rocky Adkins, who was running to their right, was nonetheless running in a position in which he said he was personally opposed to abortion, but that he would uphold the law of the land. That's another evasion saying, I would not necessarily turn my pro-life convictions into any kind of public policy.
At the end of the day, end of the election on Tuesday, it was clear that the Attorney General Andy Beshear, who's also the son of a former two-term Governor had won, and you thus look in the state of Kentucky at a head-to-head confrontation in which the issues could not be more basic, as the election will be a showdown between the Republican Governor, Matt Bevin, and the current Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. But as we've been talking about the issue of abortion, inescapably so, because it becomes one of the main issues in this election, as in the national presidential cycle, it's really interesting to consider the fact that the media asked all three candidates repeatedly, as they were running for the Democratic nomination, about abortion. And for the sake of time since Beshear won, I will only look at his answers.
He said, "I'm pro-choice, and I support Roe V. Wade. I have consistently taken action to stand up to the legislature and Matt Bevin when they have pushed to undermine women's reproductive freedom. I think the parameters set forth in Roe v. Wade have the balance about right, and I would not support changes to them. As Governor, I would move to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, if the Supreme Court overturned the decision.”
What's so interesting to note about that is not just what it tells us about the upcoming worldview conflict in Kentucky, but what it tells us about how Kentucky actually becomes a microcosm of national politics. What do I mean by that? Well, let's just consider the fact that here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election by 32 points, there is not much of a statewide constituency for the pro-abortion, or as they would style it, pro-choice position. The state would be considered state wide overwhelmingly pro-life. So what happened? Well, two things happened. Both of them are important for us to recognize.
One is that for a Democrat to win the Democratic statewide nomination race, that Democrat is going to have to win and win big in the two major cities of Kentucky. That would be Louisville and its metro area, and Lexington. You put those two together and a Democrat really cannot win without them. What does that tell you? It tells you that once again, there is a rural/urban divide in worldview and moral judgment just within the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
But that raises another issue we dare not fail to recognize. Why would these candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Kentucky be so extremely careful, especially in the cases of Edelen and Beshear, to stake out positions that sound, oh, I don't know, vaguely like the national Democratic race? Well, it is because now, and you can count on this, candidates even for local, or congressional or statewide races, they now know that whatever they say now, or whatever they said then, can be used against them in the future. So statements like this are very carefully parsed in order to aim at the future of national influence and their political party.
And so, reading this backwards, what it means is, that if you're a Democrat who wants to have any hope for national influence in the future, then you've got to signal right now. Even within the state of Kentucky, that you're going to be avidly and eagerly for abortion rights. You're going to have to learn to use the new vocabulary, and you better use it eagerly. Evidently among Democrats, that was a winning formula in Louisville and Lexington. But we need to recognize that those two cities were only the short term aim. You can count on the fact that the ultimate target of those words really wasn't Lexington or Louisville. Much less, Kentucky's capitol city, Frankfort. It was Washington D.C.
New Age Activist Marianne Williamson’s Surprising Campaign for President Proves That What Was Once Considered Fringe Is Remarkably Close to Becoming Mainstream
But next, as we're thinking of American electoral politics, which now dominates the news, there was a very interesting headline at Religion News Service—an article by veteran journalist, Mark Silk. The headline, “Marianne Williamson's Metaphysical Campaign for President.” Marianne Williamson is a New Age priestess of sorts in the United States. But now she's running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Our interest in this is not primarily partisan at all, but what this tells us theologically about the United States and its culture at this moment. As Mark Silk writes, “Unless the Democratic National Committee moves the goalpost, New Age author and activist, Marianne Williamson, will be on stage for the parties first presidential debate in Miami at the end of June. Just recently,” he tells us, "her campaign announced that it had received contributions from 65,000 separate donors.” That's one of the two ways to qualify for the debate. That's not a small thing, let's just mention here, getting 65,000 individual Americans to contribute to anything is a rather gargantuan achievement. This tells us that Marianne Williamson, who might actually be from a spiritual fringe, she nonetheless represents a fairly sizable fringe. That's what makes the story interesting.
As Mark Silk writes, "Many of those donors may have met her through one of her seven New York Times bestselling books, or at least they might have caught her on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday.”
As silk writes, "She's the first religious professional running for president since 1988 when Jesse Jackson sought the Democratic nomination, and Pat Robertson, the Republican nomination. But then Silk points to what's most interesting to us, and that is that Marianne Williamson "represents metaphysical religion, a tradition defined by University of California Santa Barbara scholar, Catherine Albanese, as comprising ‘Freemasonry, early Mormonism, universalism and transcendentalism before the Civil War, and subsequently, spiritualism, theosophy, new thought, mind cure, and reinvented versions of Asian ideas and practices.’”
Now before we go further let's just consider some of those words: universalism, early Mormonism, Freemasonry, spiritualism, theosophy, new thought, mind cure, invented versions of Asian ideas and practices. Oh, that sounds exactly like what Americans have historically looked for in a candidate for President of the United States. Of course, that's not so. It's not even remotely so.
So why would Marianne Williamson now appear to be on that stage for the first Democratic presidential debate? It's because even though the New Age worldview, in its radical end, is indeed a fringe in the United States, it's a big fringe. The bigger lesson is this. When you look at a more generalized New Age interest, it's actually not a fringe in America anymore. It is remarkably close to mainstream. Like Christian Science, and new thought, and theosophy ,and more recent versions of the radical ecology movement, Marianne Williamson is calling for a revolution, but it is a revolution in human consciousness.
As Marianne Williamson said recently to followers in Los Angeles, "It's not about doctrine, it's not about dogma, but it's about where the human mind goes, and politics has everything to do with where the mind goes because thought precedes behavior.” That's exactly the kind of language of the New Thought Movement in the 19th century. It's exactly what marked so much of the current New Age Movement.
As we conclude, it's important to understand what makes the New Age Movement so attractive. It offers the promise of some kind of spirituality without any kind of specific doctrine. There are no particular truth claims. There is no particular morality. You can make your new age beliefs take almost any political shape, but it is interesting and not coincidental that that shape generally becomes one of moral permissiveness. One very consistent and often enthusiastic about the sexual revolution. One that comes back full circle to underline, at the expense of virtually everything else, individual autonomy. One of the central issues of the New Age Movement is that the individual, himself or herself, often becomes basically the center of the universe and the determiner of spirituality.
Finally, it's important to note that the New Age Movement often becomes associated with a radical ecology, precisely because the cosmos itself is eventually the ultimate source of wonder. And that wonder is often translated, whether it's explicit or not, into a form of nature worship. If the cosmos is in the end all that is, the cosmos is all that in the end can be worshiped. It will be very interesting to see just how far Marianne Williamson gets in her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. I don't think there's really much risk that she will be at the number one or the number two slot of the Democratic Party's national ticket in 2020. But the big story is really not about whether or not that happens. The big story is the fact that she has reached this point and has gone this far in the Democratic process even to date. And so, I guess that tells us that we are in a new age in more ways than one.