briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, January 31, 2020

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

It’s Friday, January 31, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

“Waiting” for a Pro-Life Democrat? The Wait Is Apparently Very Long Indeed

Back last week, Carl Anderson wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal entitled “Waiting for a Moderate Democrat on Abortion.” The subhead: “Seven in ten Americans, including 44% of Democrats, back restrictions after the first three months.” Well, the big point here is the headline, “Waiting for a Moderate Democrat on Abortion.”

Now, this raises a host of questions, some of them that are addressed in this article and some of which are not. For one thing, even though there are perhaps moderate Democrats somewhere, as we have seen, there really is no moderate position on abortion. There may be some kind of compromise position, but in that case it is simply not following the logic either of the pro-abortion argument or—let’s just be very clear—the pro-life argument.

But nonetheless, Carl Anderson, who is with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s organization, wrote the article in which he made very clear that there are many Democrats looking for one who might be identified as a moderate Democrat in order to speak to the issue of abortion.

He wrote, “While most Democratic candidates for president have embraced extreme abortion positions, the majority of Americans haven’t. There is,” he writes, “a broad national consensus that the current abortion system is wrong and must be rolled back. Looking at recent research,” he writes, “seven in ten Americans support substantial restrictions on abortion after three months of pregnancy. This figure,” he says, “isn’t a fluke. It has been 70% or higher over more than a decade of polling. Americans,” he continues, “oppose late-term abortion, even if they want it to be legal at other points in pregnancy. Nearly half,” he says, “of those who identify as pro-choice, that’s 47%, support such restrictions according to the poll.”

Now, he makes the argument that support for limits on abortion cuts across party lines, and it does. But the big point here is not that there are many Republicans who do not support a pro-life position, but that there are actually, on the other hand, many Democrats who do. The point made over and over again in this article by Carl Anderson is that it doesn’t actually make political sense on the ground for Democrats to present such extreme abortion positions, and he’s bold to call them just that, extreme.

In other statistics that he cites, for instance, he tells us, “Nearly three-fourths of Americans view abortion as a factor in their presidential vote. Nearly two-thirds want to vote for a candidate who supports restricting abortion after the first three months of pregnancy, including 44% of Democrats.” He concludes, “Such broad bi-partisan agreement is rare in politics today.” But he goes on to say later in his article, “None of the Democratic presidential front runners has rejected what happened in New York and Virginia.”

Now, what he’s talking about there is proposed in Virginia, but now legislated in New York, absolutely radical pro-abortion policies that effectively remove all meaningful restrictions on abortion all the way up through the first, and the second, and the third trimester, right up until the moment of birth, and that will come up again in just a moment. But even as Anderson is arguing that Democratic leaders are leaving their voters behind, he argues that they prefer instead, “to chase after only the most outspoken and extreme interest groups that turn out in primaries.”

Well, here’s another interesting dimension for us to consider, and this can happen on different issues with a different dynamic in any political party. Because as you’re looking at how a party is defined, it is often defined more than anything else by those who are most involved in the process. So even as there is an enormous mainstream in the United States that would include at least half of Democrats for meaningful legislative restrictions on abortion, the fact is that the Democratic Party and its trajectory is not being set by mainstream Democrats. It is being set by those who are activists, and of course they are operating on the basis of everything from community organizing principles to, of course, the coalescing of political power, and this is something else we need to understand. Political parties eventually follow some logic, and then they coerce that logic. They make their candidates fall in line with that logic, and we now know that for decades the Democratic Party has been turning itself into the party of abortion, and now we have absolute evidence and the historical record of how this happened.

The bottom line in the article by Carl Anderson in The Wall Street Journal—it appeared online on January the 21st and in print shortly thereafter—the main point was that it would serve the Democrats politically, as you think about a national election and many statewide races, if they would actually just attenuate somewhat their radical pro-abortion commitments. But even as he writes the article, Carl Anderson has to know that is not going to happen.

It’s also not a coincidence that this article was written by the man who is the head of the Knights of Columbus. As I said, that is a traditional Catholic men’s organization, and as you look at that traditional Catholic vote across the history of the United States, especially say the last 100 years, that vote of blue collar, Catholic vote has been overwhelmingly Democratic. It has been tied to the agenda of labor unions and others. There are very good sociological and political reasons for why this has been so.

But all of that began to change, especially in the 1980 presidential election, when president Ronald Reagan, articulating a clear pro-life position, ran against a Democrat who was not articulating to say the least, a pro-life position. That is when, for the first time, there was a very significant movement of Catholic voters into the Republican fold. There had been some movement in the 1968 and ’72 elections, but nothing like what happened in 1980. Since then, the two parties have basically moved in diametrically opposite positions on the issue of abortion, but that’s where the story gets more interesting, just day by day, over the course of about the last week.

For example, just days after that article ran in The Wall Street Journal, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and in the top five Democratic candidates currently polling as the Iowa caucuses loom, he held a town hall with Fox News. In that town hall he was confronted by a woman who identified herself as a pro-life Democrat, and she demanded the answer to her question, is there a place for her and for others like her in the Democratic Party?

This is where we need to look very carefully at the transcript of exactly what Pete Buttigieg said. He said, and I quote, “I’m not going to try to earn your vote by tricking you. I am pro-choice and I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision.” According to the report that appeared at Fox News and other media, there was widespread applause from the audience. Buttigieg went on to say, “The best I can offer is that if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line, and in my view, it’s the woman who’s faced with that decision in her own life.”

Now, that is a clever and disingenuous and very disguised answer. We need to understand exactly what Pete Buttigieg was saying there. By saying that he’s simply not going to take any opinion as to where exactly abortion should be allowed and not, he says instead he’s going to change the question to the who. It’s very clever, but he ought not to get away with this. To the who, he says, “Basically, we just leave it up to the woman. We don’t want government to make that decision.” Now, that might sound awfully democratic and open minded, until you think about the fact that we do actually want government to decide what is and is not murder. Let’s be very clear about that.

But it’s also vital that we recognize that Pete Buttigieg has advocated here no restrictions whatsoever on abortion at any point, any reason right up until the moment of birth, period. That is exactly what he is defending, and later we come to find out that this particular pro-life Democrat had addressed this question to Pete Buttigieg because she thought, of all the front runners, he might actually be the most likely to accept at least some hypothetical potential possible restrictions on some abortions somewhere, at some time, for some reason. But as you see from the answer that the mayor gave her, the answer is absolutely no.

We see a very similar development in the case of the candidacy of Democratic front runner, or almost front runner, Former Vice President Joe Biden. That all depends upon which poll you’re observing. But as you’re looking at Joe Biden, you need to recognize that in the decades he spent in the United States Senate, openly identifying by the way as a practicing Roman Catholic, Joe Biden hat at some points at least advocated the allowance of some restrictions on abortion. And right up until just a matter of months ago, the former vice president had also been a stalwart defender of the Hyde Amendment. That is the legislative means, a restriction on the budget, that prevents American taxpayers from having their taxpayer money confiscated and then used to fund abortions.

But the pressure in the Democratic Party is such that the former vice president had to abandon that position, and even so, he is still identified with Pete Buttigieg as one of the two moderates left in the leadership of the party in the candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. That shows you just how un-moderate the supposedly moderate Democrats are, or perhaps it shows us just how far to the Left, on this issue and on others, the remainder of those in the race turn out to be. It is interesting that on Thursday of last week the former vice president said, “I make no apologies for my last position and I make no apologies for what I’m about to say.” He said, “I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right.”

That’s just other language for an absolute extreme, non-conditional, under any circumstance for any reason or no reason, support for a woman’s right to an abortion. That’s exactly what it is. There is no moderate position, and there are no moderate politicians on this issue, and if there might be, somewhere, someone who is identified as a moderate on these issues, then they are going to be sidelined within their own party. They will not get anywhere near to a national candidacy.

Part II

The Buttigieg Dilemma: No Real Possibility of a “Moderate” Position on Abortion

But now, just as the week comes to an end, USA Today has run an article by the woman who addressed Pete Buttigieg with that question. Kristen Day is the executive director of the group known as Democrats for Life of America. She writes in the headline, “I am the pro-life Democrat who confronted Pete Buttigieg. He’s pushing out valuable voters.” She goes on to say, “I support all the major Democratic causes of our day, but my party won’t tolerate any dissent on abortion and it is driving away voters like me.” Well, the only problem with that, from a logical perspective, is that she actually doesn’t support all the Democratic major causes of her day because abortion is front and center, almost as a religious sacrament in those causes.

But she goes on to write, and I quote, “I’ve been a registered Democratic voter since 1988 when I joined the Michigan State University Democrats and volunteered for Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign.” She goes on to talk about her experience working in the Democratic Party. She says, “No one can question my commitment to Democratic causes.”

But then she continues to say, “For the same reasons, I am pro-life for the whole life. Abortion not only snuffs out the life of a human being, but also worsens modern day social inequities.” Now, we simply have to drop a footnote here. Here you have a woman looking back to 1988 when she worked for the campaign of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who was the Democratic nominee running against George H. W. Bush, then vice president. He eventually defeated Dukakis to be elected president. The point is Michael Dukakis was extremely pro-abortion. So what exactly, in her own mind, she thought she was doing in 1988, that doesn’t become clear.

The change in the Democratic Party over the course of the last few months is just a logical extension of the changes in the Democratic Party that took place well before she began to work in the campaign of Michael Dukakis. But nonetheless, she goes on to say that there are others like her who have been pushed out of the Democratic Party. She says, “For weeks I have been trying without success to reach out to Democratic campaigns. Democrats for Life sent our candidate questionnaire to more than a dozen Democratic presidential primary campaigns asking candidates to provide their stance on freedom of conscience for pro-life Democrats. One of those candidates,” she says, “was Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who we thought would be the most likely candidate to understand pro-life Democrats and welcome us.”

Well, we now know that conversation with Buttigieg didn’t go very well, but it is interesting that Kristen Day goes on to cite changes in her party. She says, “The Democratic Party used to support a position that welcomes pro-life members. The 1996 and 2000 Democratic platforms noted that we are a party of inclusion,” and, “We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue.” But she continues to say, “But in 2012, the platform removed the word ‘rare’ in its discussion of abortion, and in 2016, the party officially called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibit federal healthcare programs from funding the procedure.”

Here’s the most important part of her article: “The reality today is that the Democratic Party, hounded by abortion extremists, is deep in the pockets of the pro-choice lobby. As much as today’s candidates talk about ending big money in politics, they make one major exception—the family planning and abortion lobby, a $3 billion industry that pads the wallets of political candidates to protect its own interests.” Now, consider that. That’s an extremely important statement. She refers to what she calls, “the family planning and abortion lobby,” but then she goes on to say, “It is a $3 billion industry.” That means annually, $3 billion, and then she goes on to tell the dirty secret. That industry lines the political funds of Democratic candidates with millions and millions of dollars. It is an industry, “that pads the wallets of political candidates to protect its own interests.”

We have seen this happen year after year, especially with the organization Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood’s defenders in Congress, and when you have a Democrat elected to the White House in the White House itself, what you’re looking at there is the fact that if you trace their campaign funding, there will be millions of dollars, not just from people who are pro-abortion, but actually from what can only honestly and truthfully be called the abortion industry, a massive industry. Just think about $3 billion a year, but think beyond the dollars. Think about the hundreds of thousands of unborn babies who are destroyed, murdered in the womb.

Next, before leaving this issue, we need to go back to Pete Buttigieg and his position on abortion. A very insightful take on Buttigieg’s position came from Ross Douthat, columnist for The New York Times. This appeared months ago, and he was writing about what he called “The Abortion Mysticism of Pete Buttigieg.” He writes about the fact that Buttigieg of course now rather famously identifies as a Christian, and as Douthat said, “has made his Christian piety a minor theme of the presidential campaign.”

But we’ve been looking over the course of the last several months and what that looks like. It is an exception to the Democratic norm, which is overwhelmingly secular in theme, if not in absolute substance. But when you’re looking at the kind of religion that Pete Buttigieg represents, it’s a Christianity that basically has nothing to do with historic biblical Christianity. It doesn’t hold to historic Christian doctrines. It certainly does not hold to historic biblical moral understandings and clear biblical principles, commandments, and laws. It doesn’t hold to a biblical definition of marriage to say the very least. Pete Buttigieg is married to another man.

But nonetheless, even if you grant what Ross Douthat calls, “the progressive catechism of Pete Buttigieg,” you also have to recognize that Douthat is absolutely right about what can only be described as the former mayor’s abortion mysticism. Now, what’s he talking about? Well, he’s talking about the fact that over and over again, Pete Buttigieg has argued that we really can’t know and don’t know when life begins. So we simply have to punt on the entire question and not worry about the status of the unborn as a human being or a person and just allow a woman to make the decision for herself. Furthermore, as Douthat points out, the abortion rights industry continually claims that there is no scientific biological basis for claiming that an unborn child is after all a human person or that we can even define when human life begins. That kind of slander is found all over the public conversation about abortion.

But Ross Douthat writes back. He says, “The difficulty of the pro-life position, the extremism inherit in any anti-abortion politics rests not in our mysticism, but in our biological, philosophical rigor. Our side of the debate,” he says, “has the simplest and most scientifically coherent definition of personhood, and our difficulty comes in persuading people that this logical of coherence should outweigh the muddle of moral intuitions on the status of the embryo and the requirements of female equality. The pro-life position,” says Douthat, “is rejected, when it is rejected, for leaning too heavily on scientific definitions, not for ignoring them.” That is profoundly true, and it is also profoundly courageous for a columnist in The New York Times to make that argument and to make it so pointedly.

Part III

Cable News Condescension on CNN: It’s Part of the Programming Now

But next, as we’re thinking about the cultural landscape in the United States, we can’t pass over an event that took place recently on CNN. It is now an infamous viral segment that came from The Don Lemon Show in which Don Lemon had on guest, Author Rick Wilson and Wajahat Ali, a New York Times and CNN contributor. They began to belittle those who vote for president Donald Trump after insulting the president himself. Now, the president can be quite insulting in his own tweets. He seems to almost enjoy this kind of back and forth banter at times.

But the point is what was revealed about how the cultural elites in the United States look at mainstream Americans, because this isn’t, don’t fool yourself, just about President Trump and those who support President Trump. It’s about the vast mainstream of America who live in fly over country and simply aren’t apart of the cultural elite. Now, what took place was that there was the accusation that President Trump would not be able to find Ukraine on a map. At that point, everything began to dissolve.

Rick Wilson referred to supporters of Donald Trump, “as the credulous boomer rube demo.” He and Wajahat Ali began to exchange words about those conservatives who looked to elitists as, “you elitists with geography and your maps and your spelling.” Wilson went on to say, “your math and your reading.” They used exaggerated Southern accents. They made their point extremely clear, but so did Don Lemon, who very clearly was enjoying it all. According to all kinds of press reports and anyone who views the video, he was actually laughing so hard he had to wipe his eyes.

Hannah Yasharoff, writing for USA Today, makes that very point, saying that after Wilson had made a statement, Don Lemon, “laughed and wiped tears from his eyes saying, ‘Sorry. Hold on. Wait,’ as he was continuing to chuckle, ‘Give me a second. Hold on. That was good. Sorry. That was a good one. I needed that.'” Now, keep that in mind when Tuesday night of this week, Don Lemon came on and addressed the controversy by saying, “Ask anyone who knows me. They’ll tell you I don’t believe in belittling people for who they are, for what they believe, or where they’re from.” He went on to say that at the time, he had found a joke from the guests to be funny, but he went on to say that he, “didn’t catch everything that was said. I was laughing at the joke and not at any group of people.” Marty Johnson reports this for The Hill.

Now, as you probably have guessed, the viewership of CNN that night was far less than the viewership of the video once it went viral. Most estimates indicate that something like 700,000 people were watching the program, but there had been nearly 10 million views of the video on Twitter and social media. It is interesting that former CNN senior digital producer, Steve Krakauer said this, “If Donald Trump wins reelection this year, I’ll remember this brief CNN segment, late one Saturday night in January, as the perfect encapsulation for why it happened.”

But all of this points to something else we should note, and that is a cover story that ran on December the 31st of last year in the magazine Review. The cover story was entitled, “This is CNN: Hysterical, Obsessive, Self-Important, and Biased.” The cover story was by Charles C. W. Cooke. In the article, Cooke details the devolution of CNN from a serious television network that seriously attempted to be nonpartisan, and frankly, it fulfilled a very important cultural role in the United States, especially with the advent of an expansion of cable television into American homes. But the point he makes is that that old CNN simply doesn’t exist anymore, and in its place is a new network that is largely about the same kind of political entertainment that you see on other cable news networks as well, and the breakdown on it is really interesting.

Back a few years ago, it became increasingly evident that Fox News was attracting a primarily conservative audience and that MSNBC was started, let’s just remember, as a liberal alternative to both CNN and Fox News. It was self-consciously established to be on the Left, and it has just moved further Left. CNN was supposed to be right there in the middle and it stayed there until it didn’t. Well, why? Well, there are a couple of explanations that are potential theories.

One is that the simple pull of the liberal media is almost impossible to overcome. So you may want to stay somewhere in the middle, but there is no real benefit to being in the middle, because if you want the adulation and the respect of the liberal media, then you’re just going to have to become more and more liberal. That’s one explanation. Another explanation is a simple market explanation. This is a crass, but simple way of understanding it. By the time you get to the middle of the last decade, Fox News had the conservative audience tied up. There really wasn’t much opportunity for CNN to move that way, so they shifted left. But the point may by Charles Cooke is that no one should doubt that that is exactly what they have done. They have shifted left, far left.

There’s something else that I want to address that isn’t really the point of Cooke’s article, and that is that when you look at all three of these television networks, there really isn’t much news on these news networks. It’s really about conversation, and it’s also really about entertainment. You have to keep that in mind. Just consider the fact that there isn’t enough news that anyone wants to hear about to take up 24 hours of cable television time. For that matter, there really would not even be say two hours, but what Americans show a taste for is the kind of politics come entertainment that has become the standard fare on cable news. It’s a little bit of news and an awful lot of talk, and the talk is often a setup, which is what people don’t recognize.

Regardless of the channel you’re watching, there is very little opportunity for any surprise at all, because the contributors, as they are identified, basically know exactly the role they are to play. And when you think about these cable news networks, just keep in mind they are a part of the cable ecology, a part of the news ecology, and I’m not arguing that Christians shouldn’t watch them. I am arguing, however, that Christians should at least know what we’re watching while we’re watching.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from New Orleans, Louisiana, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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