Tuesday, November 19, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, November 19, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Twitter “Clarifies” Its Policy on Political Advertisements: The Social Media Giant Is Stacking the Deck Decidedly Left
Several headline stories just in the last several days indicating not only the direction of the culture, but the process by which the culture is directed. Just consider, for example, the controversies concerning Facebook and Twitter and political advertising. Twitter made a splash just a few days ago by announcing that in contrast with Facebook, it was not going to be accepting political ads. It also said at the time, it would not be accepting issue ads, but over the next several days, Twitter though gaining all kinds of plaudits particularly from the left, decided that it would take issue ads after all, indicating that there would be some distinction between issue advertising and political advertising. But just over the last couple of days, we have seen evidence that what's going on at Twitter is what can only be described as an evolving project and it is going to evolve, you can almost count upon, at the expense of those who are trying to get a message out, and particularly, at the expense of cultural conservatives.
What was described as the first iteration of the Twitter rules came out last Friday, and it indicated that there would be a ban starting late in November on political advertising, but that political content was defined this way: "Content that references a candidate, political party, elected, or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation directive or judicial outcome." Now, as you look at that list, it becomes very clear that that list of supposedly political advertisements actually would cover just about any advertisement that would have to do with anything that might even remotely have something to do with the government at any point in the past, present, or future. In other words, that really gives Twitter or the people who are running Twitter, the ability to decide, "We're going to call this advertisement political, but not that one."
Vijaya Gadde, legal, policy, trust, and safety leader at Twitter, in a call with reporters on Friday said, "This is entirely new terrain." She went on to say, "We're also prepared that we're going to make some mistakes and we're going to have to learn and improve this policy over time."
Emily Stewart reporting for Vox.com gets to one issue when she says, "The more complicated part of Twitter's new policy relates to cause-based advertising, in other words, issue ads. Jack Dorsey in October said the company would ban issue ads, but it appears to have changed course." She continues, "Twitter says it will allow ads with messages about issues such as civil engagement, the economy, the environment and social equity, but they can't advocate for or against a specific political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcome related to those matters." She goes on to explain, "Basically, advertisers can talk about those topics, but they can't push a specific result on them." As an example, she offers this, "So a group could put out an ad warning against the dangers of climate change, but it presumably can't encourage the passage of the Green New Deal or direct people to a candidate's homepage." But the key issue there is presumably, and that speculation actually did not come from Twitter, but by a reporter looking at Twitter.
A more clear-headed analysis of the Twitter predicament came from the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal yesterday. In the editorial, the board said, "For those that can advertise, Twitter will impose convoluted political controls. Ads can't mention politicians, elections or legislation, and also," in Twitter's words, "should not have the primary goal of driving political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcomes." The editors then say, "Sounds comprehensive, right? But wait, Twitter says it will allow cause-based ads that call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes." Even looking at the list offered by Twitter, it appears to be, let's just say, stacking the deck, and stacking the deck, decidedly, to the left.
The editors went on to say, "Meanwhile, Twitter's issue ads policy covers abortion, civil rights, climate change, guns, healthcare, immigration, national security, social security, taxes and trade." The editors then said, "Apparently, ads can take a position on such issues, so long as Twitter's ad police judge them as not aimed at driving political outcomes." The editors summarize, "What a mess. It's no wonder Twitter is already saying it expects to make mistakes in enforcement."
Speculation elsewhere in the media raise the question as to how an organization such as the American Cancer Society would fit within this policy. Presumably, it's okay to communicate about cancer. Presumably, it's okay to be against cancer. But the question is, if the American Cancer Society says anything that might be construed as, for example, seeking to increase congressional investment in anti-cancer research, would that then amount to a political ad and no longer an issue ad? But the American Cancer Society is, if anything is, presumably a rather nonpolitical actor here. What about the National Rifle Association, or Greenpeace or a similar organization from either the cultural right or the left? But then again, the policy seems to say that those who are involved in social equity causes or environmental stewardship might be in a different category altogether.
Just remember that when Twitter made this announcement, again, positioning itself over against Facebook making an opposite announcement, you had many on the political left who said this is a very good thing, until some of them figured out that some of their own special interest groups and activist organizations might well be covered by the very same policy. Then some of the same people came back and said, "Now, wait just a minute. What's really going on here?" But actually, one way or the other, what we might actually have going on here is a constriction of free speech in the United States, and advertising, as the Supreme Court has indicated, is a form of protected speech. But it's also the case that in the universes of Facebook and Twitter, we are looking at organizations that have unprecedented power and ability to limit access in all of human history. There isn't a similar kind of near monopoly power that has been held by any communication’s medium throughout the entire history of the human race.
The LGBTQ Revolution Takes No Prisoners: Chick-fil-A Will No Longer Donate to Christian Organizations That Affirm Biblical Marriage and Sexuality
But next, another headline that indicates not only the direction of the culture, but how the culture is now directed. Headline at Bisnow that broke the story: "Chick-fil-A To Stop Donations To Charities With Anti-LGBT Views." The reporter, Cameron Sperance wrote, "As Chick-fil-A expands globally and into more liberal parts of the U.S., the chicken chain plans to change which charities it donates to after years of bad press and protests from the LGBT community. Beginning next year, Chick-fil-A will move away from its current philanthropic structure. After donating to more than 300 charitable organizations this year, the Atlanta-based fast food chain will instead focus on three initiatives with one accompanying charity each: education, homelessness and hunger."
Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos said in an interview with Bisnow, "There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are. There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message." Evidently, the clarity in this case meant establishing distance between Chick-fil-A and some of the particularly Christian-based ministries and organizations that the company had supported by its charitable contributions in years before, including some this very year.
The Bisnow report goes on, "The new initiative will no longer include donating to organizations like the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Paul Anderson Youth Home, Chick-fil-A says, all of which sparked criticism in the past from the LGBT community due to the organization's stances on homosexuality." The article goes on, "The move comes after several U.S. airports rejected the company from concessions deals earlier this year. More recently, the landlord of the first Chick-fil-A in the U.K. announced eight days into its lease the pop-up venue would not be welcome to extend — all because of the company's perceived anti-LGBT stance." Bisnow also says that Chick-fil-A is months away from opening its first location in Boston "where the late Mayor Thomas Menino pledged to ban the company from opening within city limits after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy voiced his opposition to gay marriage in 2012."
So I mentioned that this news article indicates not only the direction of the culture, but how the culture is directed. The direction of the culture is now towards basically not only marginalizing, but publicly shaming, not only these Christian ministries, just consider the fact that we're talking about an organization such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we're also talking about the Salvation Army. To state the obvious, those are not organizations that were established in order to hold a position on LGBTQ issues at all. But because they are identified with historic Christianity, they have had to define their position on these issues, and that now puts them at the very center of the target. And the LGBT activist community and others, particularly, who are driving the moral direction of the culture, they put pressure on every single corporation, especially publicly traded corporations. They're now putting incredible pressure even on a business such as Chick-fil-A, or you might say, especially because of a company like Chick-fil-A.
Just consider the power of the precedent that was set in this announcement on Monday. Now, an organization, even a company like Chick-fil-A, can no longer make contributions to historic Christian ministries because that runs afoul of the absolutism of the cultural left, and in particular, of the LGBTQ movement. The moral revolution takes very few prisoners. It just eliminates the opposition.
Tim Tassopoulos, the COO of Chick-fil-A, also said, "When there is a tension, we want to make sure we're being clear. We think this is going to be helpful. It's just the right thing to do: to be clear, caring and supportive, and do it in the community." Now, at the very least, that kind of statement appears to be putting as much distance as possible between Chick-fil-A in the present and any support of Christian ministries in the past, particularly ministries that had related to and supported young people. It can certainly be argued that in corporate terms, Chick-fil-A had no choice, but that really is the point, it's the point we all need to observe. To be in business in the United States of America under the current prevailing conditions, means that we can expect this kind of announcement coming regularly, and if not in this form from this company, then in a slightly different form from some other company or cultural institution.
The reality is that this puts to the lie the confidence of so many conservative Christians in the United States that we are witnessing some kind of revolution that can be rather quickly reversed. That is simply not the case. The fundamentals of the society are changing around us, and when fundamentals change at this basic level, they do not change back quickly. As a matter of fact, there is really no historical precedent for that change to a previous position to be expected at all. Instead, what this announces to those who hold to Christian convictions on these issues is that, increasingly, we are going to experience the marginalization that comes by the fact that no one is going to be able to support our ministries who is not going to stand before the world and be held accountable for the fact that they are supporting our ministries. So Christians, pay attention to the direction of the culture, but also pay attention to how the culture is being directed, and for that matter, who's doing the directing.
President Obama Warns 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates of Being Too Far to the Left: How the Former President Became Out-of-Date in His Own Party
But next, as we're thinking about indications of the direction of the culture, the New York Times recently ran a fascinating article on former President Barack Obama, who uncharacteristically made a statement concerning the 2020 Democratic presidential race, arguing that the average American doesn't want to tear down the system, and warning Democrats that they risk alienating the political public in the United States if they go too far left. Now, what is really interesting here is the fact that someone like former President Obama felt like he had to make the statement, and frankly, was willing to risk his personal reputation amongst Democrats to make the statement. The other interesting thing to note is how quickly many of the candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination immediately dismissed as outdated and out of step the political advice coming from the last Democratic president of the United States.
A couple of things to note about President Obama, elected of course in 2008, reelected in 2012, material from the Pew Research Center indicates that by 2012, Barack Obama was already the most divisive president in recent American history. But you also have to put that in context with the fact that almost every president from George H. W. Bush forward has been considered more divisive than the president who came before him. President Obama, when he ran for reelection in 2012, had already set the stage for that kind of division, and remember that President Obama pushed the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, in the United States Congress, a massive unilateral restructuring of the American medical care system, and he did so in a very partisan way that meant that in the final vote, there was not a single Republican voting for the legislation in either the House or the Senate. And furthermore, by the time Barack Obama left office in 2016, America was then, even before the 2016 election had been factored in, it was already more deeply divided in partisan terms than it ever had been before, at least in modern polling history. Looked at more closely, this is a really interesting development. It's also interesting that president Obama didn't really say much.
The New York Times summarizes, the reporter is Lisa Lerer, "While Mr. Obama did not single out any specific primary candidate or policy proposal, he cautioned that the universe of voters that could support a Democratic candidate — Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans — are not driven by the same views reflected on 'certain left-leaning Twitter feeds' or the 'activist wing of our party.’"
Very interesting. Former President Obama positioned himself as a symbol of moderation within the Democratic Party, but what that tells us is that the Democratic Party has now lurched, in just less than four years’ time, so far to the left that it's now scaring the last Democratic president of the United States, who we will remind ourselves, served two terms.
The former president went on and said, "Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality." Mr. Obama said, "The average American doesn't think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it." Now, the New York Times stated the obvious that this was a pointed and implicit critique of senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but judged in context, it is a far more comprehensive warning than one just directed at two of the many candidates.
One other statement made by the former president was this, "I don't think we should be deluded into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven't heard a bold enough proposal and if they hear something as bold as possible, then immediately that's going to activate them." Now, in that case, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, you might observe that President Obama was simply stating what might be called common sense, but it is very interesting to note how quickly Mr. Obama's common sense was dispensed with, absolutely rejected by those who are doing exactly what he has warned against.
Jennifer Medina and Lisa Lerer reporting for the New York times, a follow up about response to the former president's statements said this, "While none," speaking of the current Democratic candidates, "were willing to directly rebuff Mr. Obama, a few candidates offered implicit criticism saying that Democrats should be careful to steadfastly back the field so that whoever wins the nomination can count on enthusiastic support from all corners of the party." When Senator Bernie Sanders heard of Mr. Obama's language about not tearing down the system, the Senator, who identifies as a Democratic socialist said, "Well, it depends on what you mean by 'tear down the system.’" In other words, he's not backing up a bit. Actually, anyone who has watched him, wouldn't expect him to.
It's also very interesting to go back to Mr. Obama's statement and recognize that in one line he said, "This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement." By the way, the former president was speaking to a group of very wealthy Democratic donors in Washington, D.C. But in that statement, he said something that deserves a closer look, "This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement." Now, once again, that appears to be a rebuke of the left wing of the Democratic Party, which is increasingly becoming the Democratic Party itself, because that is exactly the argument against what they are stating. They are saying, and just think of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as examples, they are saying that the system does need to be torn down and that there does need to be a revolution. That is not only what they are saying, that is what they are proposing.
As we're thinking about the direction of the culture and how it's being directed, think about the direction of this party and how it is being directed, and you come to understand that it is the norm in the Democratic Party that is now being shifted significantly to the left. Even if the eventual nominee is not as radical as either Senator Sanders or Senator Warren, the reality is that the baseline argument in the Democratic Party has shifted so far to the left, that regardless of who the nominee is, the argument of the party is going to be very much more liberal than it was in 2008, or in 2012, or even in 2016.
But before leaving this story, we need to look particularly at the two centers of influence that President Obama identified within his own party as being particularly dangerous. In his statement Friday night, he warned against listening to "certain left-leaning Twitter feeds" or the "activist wing of our party.” Where is the Democratic Party being directed and how is it being directed? Well, there you see the how and you also see the who because the former president has identified certain left-leaning Twitter feeds, and there are many and they are multiplying, and the activist wing of his party. But the activist wing of his party is now the wing of the party with not only the greatest energy, but also the greatest influence, and the money in the party is running towards that activist wing. You have freshman members of Congress who now have far more influence than senators who have served for decades, and the old power structure that used to restrain the Democratic Party from moving too far to the left is now considered absolutely out of date and out of time.
Is There a Viable Place for a “Moderate” in the Democratic Party? Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick Enter the Race for the Middle of the Party
This leads us to another article that appeared in yesterday's edition of the New York Times. The headline: "Moderates Are Stepping Up to Seize the Day in the Democratic Primary." Alexander Burns is the reporter, and he points to the fact that at least two new candidates, both running to what they identify as the middle of the Democratic Party, have at least filed papers in recent days, and that would include former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg, the former three time mayor of New York City. Now, again, looking at them, you have to recognize that if you were to mention either of those names, especially on moral and social issues just a few years ago, you would have said they are way out on the left, but now they are running for what the New York Times says, is in a headline, the moderate middle of the Democratic Party.
It is very interesting that in this story that ran in yesterday's edition of the Times, you have reporters saying that at least some Democrats are looking at two races in the South, the gubernatorial races in Louisiana and Kentucky and pointing out that it was not wild-eyed liberals who won those races. But when you look at the state of Kentucky, the New York Times’ summary is not particularly insightful. For example, it is true that in Louisiana, John Bel Edwards was reelected as governor, a Democrat, even as President Trump was supporting the challenger, but the fact is that Governor Edwards had run advertising himself as a pro-life candidate. That was not the case in Kentucky where the current Attorney General Andy Beshear accepted funds from abortionists and from the National Abortion Rights Action League or NARAL, and where he had spent his time in office as attorney general trying to counter pro-life legislation and executive orders coming from the incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin.
So what this points to is, once again, the fact that the baseline in the Democratic Party has shifted so far to the left. And when you talk about the governor's race in Kentucky just days ago, you are talking about a Democratic candidate who won with a very pro-abortion agenda held very publicly.
The All-Consuming Pro-Abortion Ideology of the Democratic Party: No Room for Even One Pro-Life, Democratic Attorney General in the Entire Country
But it's also interesting to note that another article that ran in yesterday's edition of the New York Times tells us that the Democratic Attorneys General Association has announced that it will endorse candidates only if they openly and unreservedly support abortion rights. The headline: "Democratic Prosecutors Call For Abortion Rights.” Lisa Lerer is again the reporter.
In this article, we are told, "Only five Democrats who oppose some abortion rights remain in Congress." Let that settle in for a moment. When you consider the fact that there are 435 members of Congress and there are 100 senators, what does it tell you that out of 435 and out of the Democrats who are the majority in the House, you are looking at only five who identify in some way as against some abortion rights? And the New York Times article also published yesterday tells us that two of the five are now being challenged in Democratic primaries from the left by pro-abortion candidates.
As we're thinking about the direction of the culture and how the culture is directed, consider this opening paragraph to this article, "An association of Democratic state attorneys general will become the first national party committee to impose an explicit abortion litmus test on its candidate, announcing on Monday that it will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support reproductive rights and expanding access to abortion services." Notice the demand here, any candidate who receives their affirmation in the Democratic Party must not only support reproductive rights, that's the way it stated, but also must support expanding access to abortion services, expanding access.
As we're thinking about the baseline of the party, consider this sentence: "The new standard is unlikely to have an immediate impact on incumbents: Of 27 Democratic attorneys general currently in office, just one — Jim Hood of Mississippi — describes himself as a pro-life Democrat." So out of all the attorneys general in the United States, 27 are Democrats, and only one of them, that is the attorney general in Mississippi, says that he identifies as a pro-life Democrat.
So this entire news article that appeared on page A11 of the print edition of yesterday's New York Times is about the Association of Democratic State Attorneys General seeking to make possible that there would not be even one state attorney general who, as a Democrat, would be identified as pro-life, even in a state, the most pro-life state in the union arguably, even in a state like Mississippi. This tells us that the Democratic Party is now willing to concede entire states to the Republican Party when it comes to statewide office such as attorney general, because they are now more concerned with the ideological pro-abortion purity of their party than even with winning elections, in a state like Mississippi.
In a very clear affirmation of how this is now being directed in the hopes behind this announcement, the New York Times tells us, "Officials believe it could have a ripple effect through the Democratic ecosystem reflecting the changing mores of a national party that has moved sharply to the left in the Trump era and embraced a set of purity tests on divisive social issues." A set of purity tests on divisive social issues — it turns out, as we understand today, that that applies not only to anyone who might decide to run for the Democratic nomination for the office of state attorney general, but for anyone in the United States who intends to sell chicken sandwiches to the American public.
All of these headlines are intended not only to send a so-called ripple effect through the Democratic ecosystem, but rather through the entire American ecosystem. A part of our responsibility is to watch how the culture works, and we've been given plenty of evidence just in the last few days and hours.
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'm speaking to you from San Diego, California, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.