briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, November, 12 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Yet Another Democratic Candidate for 2020? Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Enters the Campaign — Maybe

Just when you thought the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination couldn’t get more strange, it did. That’s with the expected entry of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, into the race. As The New York Times reported, “Michael R. Bloomberg disrupted the Democratic presidential field on Friday as he took his first steps into the 2020 race, unnerving supporters of Vice President, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and prompting Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to accuse Mr. Bloomberg of seeking to buy the presidency.”

Why is this big news? It’s because anyone deciding to run for president of the United States with a personal fortune estimated at just under $60 billion is big news. That’s because we’re looking at an individual who can self-fund an entire presidential campaign without virtually having to dig into his own personal capital.

This is virtually unprecedented in the history of the United States. When you look at modern American politics, the outlier is none other than the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, whose fortune has been estimated above and below $1 billion, but has certainly been recognized as a billionaire for the better part of the last two to three decades. But with Donald Trump, you’re looking at someone who did make a sizeable personal investment in his presidential campaign, but mostly in the course of the primary campaign. He very famously flew his own corporate jet emblazoned with his own name, and he was able to use his financial leverage in order to gain advantage. But that particular kind of contribution is overshadowed by what is now happening or just might happen in the Democratic Party when the former mayor of New York, in this case, is far more significant politically because he does have a $60 billion fortune. He’s estimated by Forbes and others to be the ninth most wealthy individual on planet Earth.

But in worldview analysis, it’s just really interesting to ask the question, why would someone threaten to enter the race at this last moment? And it has to do with the fact that very clearly the former mayor of New York City is indicating that he doesn’t like the current slate of prospects. He had been expected to support the former vice president of the United States, Joseph Biden, in running for the Democratic nomination, largely because Biden had established support in the one place in the party where Bloomberg might have had some hope. So the indication that we receive by the signals from the Bloomberg camp is that Michael Bloomberg no longer believes Joe Biden to be a stronger candidate as he was thought to be just a matter of weeks, perhaps even days ago.

But the other issue to recognize is that Michael Bloomberg has been a registered Democrat throughout most of his adult life. He did spend some time as the Republican mayor of New York City. He did at one point identify as a political independent, but for most of his life, and that includes the before and the after his services mayor. He was a registered Democrat, and fairly liberal indeed on social issues, very liberal, but on economic issues, nowhere near as liberal as some of those who are now trying to push the Democratic Party to the far left, most particularly Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders running as a Democratic socialist and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Both of them have proposed plans for the economy that in the view of Michael Bloomberg and others would totally tank and destroy the American economy. But Bloomberg’s concern is actually beyond that because Bloomberg though predictably liberal on so many issues, including climate change, actually is not for the kind of plan that almost all the Democratic candidates have endorsed that would also largely destroy the economy in the name of a response to a climate crisis.

But for Christians looking at this kind of development, there are even deeper issues, and this requires this to look at the story of Michael Bloomberg. Born in Massachusetts, he was educated at Johns Hopkins University and then he began working on Wall Street. And as a young man working on Wall Street, he saw an opportunity for advantaging businesses using technology that eventually would take the form of the terminals that Bloomberg established and commercially sold to the investment community offering the most up-to-date information that was particularly accurate in describing trends. Now if you’re in the investment community, trends are the one reality you must watch, and Bloomberg was able to assemble a technology that put his information terminals on the very desks of investors and those watching investments, they were able to note trends and respond more quickly than other investors and that was worth millions of dollars. Eventually, billions of dollars. Eventually from Michael Bloomberg, $60 billion.

Bloomberg’s family is Jewish and he himself is a member of a Jewish congregation. His moral and social positions are those not only of the left but of the fairly far left, but that then leads us to a very interesting observation about Michael Bloomberg. He was particularly known as mayor of New York taking a centrist position in the New York spectrum. That tells you something about New York.

Bloomberg also became very famous or infamous as the advocate of government coercion in the creation of the so-called nanny state. Bloomberg demonstrated a willingness to use the apparatus of city government and beyond that, by extension, if he had the power of state and national government to micromanage some of the minute details of everyday life, including consumer decisions made by individual citizens. One of the most controversial move during the Bloomberg administration was an attempt that he supported to try to make illegal the sale of all carbonated beverages with sugar of servings larger than sixteen ounces. It’s for this reason that veteran Democratic observer David Axelrod said that the announcement that Michael Bloomberg might be about to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination should lead voters all over the nation to cling tightly to their Big Gulps.

It’s also interesting to note that some in the investor class, both Republicans and Democrats are now openly encouraging Bloomberg to run. Bret Stephens, columnist for the New York Times, ran an article with the headline, “Run, Mike, Run.” Well, at the same time, another columnist for the New York Times, Charles Blow wrote an article entitled, “No One Should Vote for Michael Bloomberg.” That was particularly addressed to minority readers.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal actually seemed to encourage Bloomberg to enter the race with an editorial statement entitled, “The Water’s Fine, Mr. Bloomberg.” The editors of the Journal described why this just might be an opportune moment in their view for Bloomberg to enter the race and why Democrats in the leadership don’t want it to happen.

The editors wrote, “The truth they don’t want to admit is that the Democrats now leading in the primary polls have major vulnerabilities. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to blow up American capitalism, and replace it with their top-down, socialist designs. Their agenda might scare suburban voters more than four more years of Mr. Trump does. Joe Biden said the editors often stumbles with his words on the stump and can’t escape the Ukraine imbroglio if impeachment goes to a Senate trial. He’s also low on money. Pete Buttigieg is a glib and clever 37-year old, but his only political experience is as the mediocre mayor of a small and struggling city. Kamala Harris has been exposed as unprepared for the national stage and is running on her identity far more than her ideas. Others like Amy Klobuchar have appeal as potential presidents, but they haven’t shown they can attract a large primary following.” The next line, “No wonder Mr. Bloomberg thinks he might have a chance.”

The interesting aspect of worldview analysis here is understanding that billionaires tend to hang together, and they tend to have similar political and economic interests, and they seem to have an interest in continuing the investor class, and that is not only to the billionaires, but of others who are heavily invested in Wall Street, and in the future of Wall Street who think that the combination of a fiscal responsibility on the one hand and social liberalism on the other hand might now face a political opening in the United States.

But then looking at deeper worldview analysis, we see some problems with that proposal. One of them is this: It has been suggested that if Mayor Bloomberg does run, that he would skip the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, also South Carolina, and go immediately to some of the Southern primaries, particularly of Super Tuesday. What’s the problem? Well, the problem is Mayor Bloomberg and his nanny state. The problem is that Michael Bloomberg has been a major proponent, not only of gun control, but of what amounts to a confiscatory gun control, and he has been spending millions and millions of his own dollars in influencing statewide elections on this issue, such as the recent election held just days ago in Virginia. On issues of abortion and human sexuality and gender identity and all the rest, Michael Bloomberg is decidedly a man of the left. You put all that together with a threat to the Big Gulp, and you have to question whether or not a Bloomberg candidacy is likely to be a big winner in States like Alabama and Texas.

But the bottom line in this analysis is that the big number that is in everyone’s mind is 60, as in $60 billion. The big question is whether or not a candidate armed with that kind of arsenal could actually deploy so much media, could actually self-invest so much in a campaign, could offer such massive media saturating advertising that he could eventually consume just about all of the air in a political campaign. In any event, it tells us that there is right now tremendous unrest in the Democratic Party concerning the future of that party and its eventual 2020 presidential nominee. It is really clear that the threat from the left is extremely real, so real that it is now prompted someone like the three-term, former mayor of New York City to consider entering the race himself.

But before leaving this story, there are a couple of other issues, and it’s tied to larger worldview concerns as we think about the entire nation. Just what does it tell us that someone was a mayor of New York City, not to mention a recent three term mayor? What does that tell us? Well, New York City is a very socially and morally, politically liberal city, so there’s no one who is a conservative on moral issues who is going to come close to being elected the mayor of New York City, either as a Republican or as a Democrat.

So even looking at Rudy Giuliani, the famous Republican Mayor of New York City, even mayor during the time of the 9/11 attacks, even the man who became widely known as America’s mayor back in the day, he was a Republican on economic issues, but he held two very socially liberal positions. This was one of the reasons why he didn’t get very far in the presidential process when he entered the primaries years ago.

Jesse McKinley writing an article for the New York Times asked the question, “Why do New York mayors presume the White House is their next stop?” He writes, “It’s easy to get an inflated sense of self when you’re running New York City, with an avid press corps chronicling your every utterance and the city’s global prominence providing a bully pulpit on topics from international terrorism to President Trump’s immigration policy.”

“That ego, however,” McKinley writes, “has often been rapidly deflated when mayors decide as they are wont to do that they’d like to trade Gracie Mansion,” that’s the residence of New York City mayors, “for the White House, a route littered with underwhelming poll numbers under attended rallies and unceremonious exits long before a single vote is cast.” Then the New York Times says, “Just ask Mayor Bill de Blasio,” that would be the current New York mayor who ran for the Democratic nomination, and was the very first to withdraw from the race for lack of support.

But my point in raising the worldview analysis here is to go back to one of the issues we see over and over again on The Briefing. You get much closer to a secular worldview, much closer to a progressive, morally liberal worldview when you get near a coast, near a campus and near a major city. There is no combination in the United States of those three things together that can equal New York City, which ends up meaning in essence that what it takes to be elected the mayor of New York City is probably exactly not what it takes to be elected president of the United States.

Part II

The Insatiable Hunger for Wealth: Why Money Can Never Ultimately Satisfy

But then in worldview analysis, we also have to step back and ask what it means that he does have a wealth of about $60 billion. That leads us to another recent article in the New York Times that was not tied directly to a potential Bloomberg candidacy, but it did come up because of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race because of the condemnation of wealth that has been leveled by so many of the candidates, but in particular Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Alex Williams, in an article entitled, “Wealthy and Still Working. Why?” He cited Bernie Sanders as saying, “Billionaires should not exist.”

But it is really interesting to know that the purpose of this article is not to address the question, “Should billionaires exist?” but rather to ask the question, “Why do billionaires keep working, especially when they have multiple billions of dollars?” And it’s really interesting to see the answer. As the New York Times tells us, “Studies over the years have indicated that the rich, unlike the leisured gentry of old, tend to work longer hours and spend less time socializing.” Several examples are mentioned, but then the explanation is given, “Today’s competitive personality types are unable to slow down, in part because they fear slipping from their lofty perches.” There’s then a citation from Maria Bartiromo, the Fox Business TV anchor who said, “Driven people are just driven. They want to stay fresh and relevant, and to do that, it requires consistent practice. If you want to win, you need to be all in.”

But the article gets really interesting when Alex Williams tells us, “Sociologists have long talked about relative income hypothesis. We tend to measure material satisfaction by those around us, not in absolute terms.” Now that, in worldview analysis, is just really interesting. Here we are being told that most people when considering whether or not they are wealthy or materially comfortable or where they stand just in a ranking economically, they tend to look at those around them rather than to offer any measure of absolutely objective terms. Rather than saying, “I need this much money in order to have my needs met,” they instead say, “Hey, that person over there has more money than I have. I need to work harder.”

The article then cites Robert Frank, he’s the wealth editor for CNBC and he’s the author of a book published back in 2007 with the interesting title, “Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich.” He said, “For most people, enough is enough,” but he said, “There is another group of people, no matter what they have, they have to keep going. I call them ‘scorekeepers.’ They’re truly driven by competitive zeal.”

Williams then tells us, “Among the very rich, it does not matter that all imaginable material needs have been met.” He cites here, Edward Wolff, a professor of economics in New York University who went on to say, “Among the rarefied group of the extreme rich, social status depends on net worth. Their enhanced wealth allows them to make substantial charitable contributions to institutions like museums and concert halls, that may lead to having a building or the like named after them.”

Other insight came from Steven Berglas, a psychologist who explained that living inside bubbles, the rich need greater excess just to feel the same high. In his words, “If you’re an alcoholic, you’re going to take one drink, two drinks, five drinks, six drinks to feel the buzz. Well, when you get $1 million, you need $10 million to feel like a king. Money is an addictive substance.”

In thinking about this, you recall that I mentioned that according to Forbes and other rankings, Michael Bloomberg is the ninth richest man in the world. It takes a lot of work to be ranked ninth, but that means there are eight individuals wealthier than you, and there are others lower in the list who are probably making money while you’re trying to sleep or take a vacation, and thus they are going to be ranked ninth and you’re going to fall to 11th or 13th.

One other section of this article cites a Harvard university survey of 4,000 millionaires that, “Found that people worth $8 million or more were scarcely happier than those worth 1 million.”

If in all of this you hear the echoes of the Bible, you would be exactly right. The Bible warns about the seduction of riches. The Bible is very honest in economic terms, and fundamentally it points to the underlying moral and spiritual terms that are even prior to any matters economic. The Bible never says that being rich is a sin, but it does point to the fact that being rich can build up self-justification and self-confidence to the point, that rich people can afford to be very resistant to the gospel. At least they think they can.

The Bible warns against any unjust or unrighteous means of gathering wealth, and then in the New Testament, we are told that those who are Christians who have wealth bear a greater stewardship in dealing with that wealth and extending it for gospel purposes. But you would need to read no further than the book of Ecclesiastes to understand that anyone who believes that a human being can find ultimate satisfaction, trust, and rest in money is delusional. And that’s exactly the point that we see here in this article in the New York Times, telling us that billionaires don’t feel more secure, but actually less secure because they have to keep score. And furthermore, we have this study coming from Harvard telling us that those who have multiple millions of dollars are not happier than those who have a single million dollars.

Now that might sound like a very interesting piece of research in which having $1 million appears to be the baseline, but the reality is that all of us know that having far less than a million dollars does not mean that anyone is more sad or less fulfilled than anyone who has $1 million or $8 million or $60 billion.

What money can buy — and we need to remember this — is access and material goods. Money can buy power in this life. And that’s why someone who’s had no more experience than being the liberal mayor of New York City now thinks he can run for president of the United States, and he thinks so armed with $60 billion. But the Christian worldview saturated in Scripture reminds us that the most important thing to remember about money is what it can’t buy you.

Just think of Luke 16 and the account of Lazarus and the rich man. It is the rich man who cannot after his death use his wealth on earth to buy him anything, even temporary relief from the penalty of Hell. So money just might buy you access into the kingdom of man, even the 2020 Democratic race, but it will not buy you anything in the kingdom of God.

Part III

Why Are Married Couples Happier Than Cohabiting Couples? The World Is Asking the Question. Christians Know the Answer.

But next, speaking about happiness, Liam Stack of the New York Times offers an article entitled, “For Better: Unwed Couples Are On the Rise Although Married Ones May Be Happier.” As you might expect from that headline, this is an article we need to look at closely. Stack writes, “The lingering impacts of the Great Recession have contributed to a boom in the number of unmarried couples who live together, but a new survey from the Pew Research Center has found that those couples tend to be less happy than their married counterparts.”

Now, let’s just step back and look at this for a moment. Sociologists have been tracking relative rates of marriage versus cohabitation, and one of the things they discovered is that the recession did prompt a fall off on the rates of marriage, from which marriage has not recovered. But Christians understand you can’t blame major moral decisions on economic realities, but it’s interesting that the world tries to do just that. But it’s also interesting that in this article it goes far beyond economics, and actually even in the lead paragraph says oddly enough that even the Pew Research Center in this secular survey has discovered that married couples just might be happier than unmarried couples living together.

Now, Christians would have to ask, why would we be surprised? But we’d also have to ask the question, why would this be so? Let’s take a closer look.

The article tells us that moral change in the United States means that living together in a relationship outside of marriage has become less socially censored. It’s considered immoral by fewer people in the United States. As the article says, “A slim majority of Americans, 53%, said society would be better off if long-term couples got married. But 69% of Americans said it was acceptable to live with a romantic partner even if you had no plans to get married, while 16% said it was okay only if a couple saw a wedding in their future.”

But the article continues, “But all this acceptance does not mean that there are no troubles in paradise for unmarried couples. According to the survey, unmarried couples report significantly less satisfaction in their relationships than do married couples, who report higher levels of trust in their partner’s honesty, fidelity, and spending habits. It said that 58% of married adults said their relationship was going very well compared with only 41% of unmarried people who live with a partner.”

The article goes on to say, “The pattern is true across a broad range of areas. Married people are more likely than unmarried cohabitants to say they are very satisfied with issues such as the division of household chores, with their partner’s communication skills, and how well their partner balances work and personal life, and furthermore, how satisfied those in marriage are with each other’s parenting. The rates of satisfaction on all these issues go way down when couples are not married.”

But the leader of the study told the New York Times, “We can’t necessarily explain why married people are happier with the current study that we have, when we controlled for all these different demographic factors including age, race, education levels, religious affiliation, and the duration of their relationship. Even when we controlled for all of those things, the link between marriage and higher levels of satisfaction was still significant.”

Well, here’s where Christians looking at this study have to say, “Well, we will go where the study researchers would not go. We will go to making the argument for why a married couple is happier than an unmarried couple, and why marriage would lead to happiness.” And it goes back to the fact that one of the issues that was tested for satisfaction was fidelity. Now, that’s another word for faithfulness — faithfulness to each other. And here’s where Christians understand that marriage given to us by God as a part of creation, right there in Genesis 1 and 2, that marriage uniquely creates an arena for happiness and for trust and for fidelity because marriage is at its heart a long-term commitment that in biblical terms is defined even as a covenant.

It shouldn’t take a background in biblical theology to understand how that offers stability and trust and security within marriage. A married couple, a man and a woman, committing to each other for so long as they both may live. Famously, as the Book of Common Prayer’s traditional wedding service reminds us, “In sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth.” You know that service. It reminds us that through thick and thin, good times and bad, it is the essence of that covenantal commitment that keeps the couple together within the bonds and within the security of marriage.

And furthermore, when you get to fidelity and faithfulness, here’s where we need to remind ourselves, that violating fidelity in this sense, for a married couple is defined as adultery. And yet, when you’re looking at couples that are merely co-habiting, it isn’t the same thing for someone to be involved with another partner outside of the relationship. You can only commit adultery if you are married. If you are not married, then there isn’t even a basis for any violation that would actually be defined as adultery.

The entire moral universe that God has given to human beings depends upon the understanding of the central gift of marriage as the covenant union of a man and a woman. And every thriving civilization throughout human history has found a way to get to the privileging of that lifelong monogamous commitment as a way of the husband and the wife being publicly committed, lastingly committed to each other, as a way for the husband and the wife as the father and the mother to take responsibility together for the successful raising and nurturing of their children.

This is why every successful civilization has attached privileges to marriage that cannot be attached to any other relationship. And this is why, as Christians understand, that even as the world around us insist that it can redefine marriage in these terms to mean a man and a man, and a woman and a woman, even as the law may declare that it is so, experienced will prove that it is not so.

But once again, Christians are in the position of reading a paper like the New York Times and seeing, even in this very influential secular newspaper, a question asks that the newspaper’s own authorities can’t answer, but that we can as Christians and must. This massive study indicates that across the board, married couples indicate that they are happier and more satisfied, and experience more trust than unmarried couples. And Christians understand why. And it should point us once again to the goodness of God’s creation and His mercy in giving to human beings the gift of marriage. And as Jesus himself declared, “What God has put together, let no man tear asunder.”

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Today, I’ll be speaking in Lexington, Kentucky, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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