briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, February 21, 2020

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

It’s Friday, February 21, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Democratic Divide: Left, Further Left, A Mega-Billionaire, and a Millionaire Socialist?

Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate held in Las Vegas is now history, but the Nevada caucuses are to be held tomorrow. That means at least in theory that come Monday, we should know at least a little bit more about the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But in reality, even though the caucus results, if indeed we have them on Monday, would be indicative and interesting, the far more interesting event was actually the debate that was held in Las Vegas on Wednesday, and that is because it was not merely a debate that was directed to those who will be voting in the Democratic caucuses in Nevada. Rather, it was a national audience and that national audience was treated to the most interesting debate yet in the 2020 Democratic presidential series.

Why? Well, for one thing, it was the first debate in which former three-term mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, appeared on the platform. And just to summarize, it was for Mayor Bloomberg an absolute unmitigated disaster. It’s the kind of disaster from which almost no political candidate at the national level can recover. But it’s going to be interesting to find out if the mayor does have the kind of resilience that keeps him in the race for some time. He definitely has the money to keep him in the race, and at this point that’s what makes him different than virtually every other candidate. Any other candidate that would have to raise funds from others in order to maintain a campaign would’ve failed. The disaster of Wednesday night would have been enough to end the candidacy. But with Michael Bloomberg and with Michael Bloomberg’s over 50 or 60 billion dollars, well, all those old rules are off.

But there’s still one rule that continues. Votes eventually are counted and the accumulated votes do matter. The most important number when it comes to any party’s national nomination is not the number of dollars, but the number of votes translated into the number of delegates. Now, we also know something else that’s interesting about the 2020 Democratic race, by the time the caucuses in Nevada are over this weekend, it should be even more clear that it is becoming, truly this time, unlikely that any one of the candidates will show up at the convention in Milwaukee with an adequate number of convention delegates to guarantee the nomination. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the nomination will be up for grabs. It does mean that there will have to be some kind of bargaining process when it comes to delegates at the end. Now, that is true, in a general sense, every election cycle, but when it comes to this election cycle, it could be particularly divisive at the Democratic national convention.

Indeed, we’re now looking at the likelihood that it will be so, but let’s return to the debate in Las Vegas for a few moments. One of the big questions that almost everyone asks in the aftermath of the debate is who won and who lost? Well, it is clear who lost, and that was Mayor Bloomberg. It is also clear that candidates such as former vice president Joe Biden, though he had a few sparks of energy, probably did not do himself much good in that debate. The other clear loser in Las Vegas was Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and that’s particularly important for her right now because over the course of the next several weeks, if not the next several days, either one of two candidates is likely to continue, and those two candidates are Senator Klobuchar on the one hand and former South bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg on the other. They are on very close contested terrain. Both of them may maintain some sort of energy but probably not after super Tuesday, early in March. At that point it is likely that only one of them, if either one of them, continues as a major factor in the race.

And that is also true of course for former vice president Joe Biden who has been basically humiliated in the previous two contests in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He seemed to be acknowledging that he didn’t expect to do very well in Nevada either. Where at this point it is expected that independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is going to be the winner, at least in winning a plurality of the votes cast in the caucuses in Nevada. We’ll know a lot more, at least we think we will, by the time we come together again on Monday. In a very real sense amongst the Democratic candidates, the candidate who won most convincingly on Wednesday night was Bernie Sanders, simply because he did not lose. When you are the front runner with the kind of strength of Senator Sanders at this point, you win by not losing.

If there was a surprise and there was on Wednesday night, it was the unexpectedly strong performance of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and interestingly it was she who directed the primary fire at Mike Bloomberg. She pulled off something else in politics that sometimes happens. She went after another candidate, perhaps actually destroying him, and might have at least to some extent resuscitated her own campaign in so doing. I did think it was humorous, even clever on Wednesday night when someone got into Michael Bloomberg’s Wikipedia page. On that page of course you will find his personal information. He was born on February the 14th, 1942, given the name Michael Rubens Bloomberg. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but his page was changed, temporarily at least, to include the date of his death as February the 19th that means Wednesday night, and the cause of his death, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But in worldview analysis, it’s really interesting to look at how Senator Warren directed the attack on Michael Bloomberg. Of course all the candidates attack the fact he is basically trying to buy the race, and he doesn’t even appear to be denying that he’s basically trying to buy the race. Mayor Bloomberg, who is a billionaire at least 50 times over, has admitted that he has earned what by his own description is an obscene amount of money, or an insane amount of money, but he was defending himself on a platform of Democrats that is increasingly tilted against capitalism and the free market economy, and you are also looking at the fact that Bloomberg was there in close proximity to Senator Sanders, who has said that being a millionaire or a billionaire is immoral, speaking especially to those who have lots of millions.

But that’s where the conversation just got more interesting because Mayor Bloomberg then pushed back on Bernie Sanders in what at least at this point is the very best line ever uttered in the 2020 Democratic series. Mayor Bloomberg spoke of Senator Sanders by saying, “What a wonderful country we have. The best known socialist in the country happens to be a millionaire with three houses. What did I miss here?” Now that raises a huge issue which ought to have our attention, which is that we just remind ourselves there actually is an avowed declared Democratic socialist candidate now leading as the candidate with the most momentum running for the 2020 Democratic party’s presidential nomination. We’re not talking about someone with a few socialist ideas. We’re not talking about someone who might be accused of being a socialist. We’re talking about someone who declares himself to be a Democratic socialist.

Now, Bernie Sanders doesn’t follow the total European socialist line, at least for now, but we do need to note that the for now is important because as a young man, he basically did. But nonetheless, he continues to identify as a socialist and he is in a real sense a socialist. And here you have a socialist who is a millionaire and does own three houses, and here’s the point: When you look at the history of socialism over the course of the last two centuries in Western political life, it is interesting to note that socialism is rarely an idea that emerges from those who are genuinely poor or impoverished. It emerges from a cognitive intellectual elite that tends to have access to capital, which after all defines capitalism.

Mayor Bloomberg also did something else which will turn out to be a magnificent gift to the Republican party later in the 2020 cycle. He described the form of socialism that he was critiquing as communism. He made the point that socialism has been tried and it failed. He said it was called communism. Now, a couple of very interesting observations follow from that. Well, first of all, he had groans and moans from Democratic audience in Las Vegas. In other words, he was in trouble with those voters for saying out loud that socialism and communism are to be uttered in the same breath. It is also interesting that at that point, Senator Sanders did not try to refute him with any form of elaborate argument. Instead, he basically groaned and shook his head.

But there was another point about Mayor Bloomberg that also deserves attention, and that is that when Senator Elizabeth Warren went on the attack, she went at a particular vulnerability of the former New York City mayor, and that is accusations of sexism and sexually inappropriate behavior and language that have long been associated with Bloomberg in his business life long before he became mayor, but at the same time, you will notice that Mayor Bloomberg didn’t exactly back off sufficiently from those accusations. He even seemed to admit that at least some women had been offended by at least some jokes that he had told.

Now with that, keep in mind that the New York Times and other major media have been giving attention to the fact that there have been criticisms of the mayor for sexist and sexually offensive language, and language that is basically sexist in its treatment of women, in its description of women in various contexts. There was even a collection of the statements or the sayings of chairman Michael Bloomberg, as it was called, that was compiled by some of the executives in his company and presented to him on one of his anniversaries or birthdays. In other words, it was something that wasn’t hidden. It was even considered something of a joke when the sayings were published, but that was then, and this is now, and now we are on the other side of the fact that the Democratic party has been claiming that it is going after the high ground on these issues, but as Elizabeth Warren made very clear, that’s going to be hard to do if Michael Bloomberg is your candidate.

I pointed out about a week ago on The Briefing the fact that Mayor Bloomberg is also an innovation in being a major candidate for a party nomination that is unmarried but nonetheless has had for at least two decades, we are told, a relationship with a woman who is not his wife. Now when you’re talking about the current situation of the American presidency, it is clear that there has been a redefinition of the morality expected of a president. You could say that this goes back in one sense to the era when Americans did not know the sexual misbehavior of their presidents, most infamously president John F. Kennedy. But it also goes back to the fact that Ronald Reagan, who was the champion of family values and conservative morality, was someone who had experienced a divorce and he himself was remarried. Nancy Reagan was his wife, she became the first lady, but the important thing is to recognize that they had been married for some time and were understood to be a very romantic and stable pair.

And then you fast forward to the scandals of the Bill Clinton administration, and then fast forward to the election of Donald Trump who’s been married not just once, but twice and three times. And you realize that all of this has been to some degree renegotiated politically, except I will go on to make the argument again, I don’t think the American people are going to put trust in a political candidate, especially for the office of president of the United States, who does not have a spouse. And by that I mean in this case, a wife, very visible and supportive.

Just a couple of minor observations to continue looking at Wednesday night and the aftermath, the speaking time that was actually experienced or recorded by the various candidates, turns out to be a very interesting indicator of who came away with the greatest influence on the debate. According to the rankings, Elizabeth Warren spoke for 17 minutes, 25 seconds while Michael Bloomberg spoke only for 13 minutes, 35 seconds.

Now, each of the parties in coordination with the media outlets that are sponsoring or the institutions sponsoring the debate, they arrange the rules, but the Democrats for some reason have established the rules of debate this year that lead to some pretty dramatic high intensity moments. But there’s another absolutely shocking fact when you think about it. That campaign stage, that stage of candidates is, when looking at the year 2020 really, really old, far older than you would have expected when thinking about the Democratic race, say two years ago. One observer pointed out that if Bill Clinton, who is now 73 announced that he was going to be a candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination and had jumped on the debate stage on Wednesday night, he would have been the second youngest man on the stage.

Part II

The Race for the White House and the Redefinition of Marriage — The Democratic Spouse Lunch Reveals the Moral Revolution

But at this point I want to shift and go back to the question of presidential spouses and here I’m indebted to someone who sent me an invitation picture for a spouses luncheon that is connected with the South Carolina primary coming in just a matter of days. That Democratic primary is perhaps the last great hope for former vice president Joe Biden. It’s going to be different from the other Democratic voting events thus far because it is going to be in a state in which there’s a very large population of African-Americans. Indeed, a majority of the registered voters in South Carolina on the Democratic side are identified as African American.

But leave that for a moment because I want to go back to the roster for the candidates spouses luncheon that is to be held in connection with the Democratic primary there coming in days. It’s a celebration of South Carolina as the first primary or voting event in the Democratic sequence in the South. Who are the spouses who are going to speak or appear at this luncheon, which is of course a political event? They are there to represent their spouses and to support the candidacy of their spouses in the 2020 Democratic race.

Well, the first is John Bessler. You might not know by hearing his name that he’s the husband of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Then you would hear a Bruce H Mann. You might not know of him, but he is the husband of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Then there is Kat Taylor. If you don’t know who she is, she is the wife of Tom Steyer. Then there’s Jane Sanders. You’ve got that one, she is the wife of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But then finally there is Chasten Buttigieg, the husband, according to law, of mayor Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Now when you look at this particular roster, what you have is graphic—and by that I mean it is a graphic image—graphic evidence of the moral revolution that has taken place around us.

If you just want to see one picture that would make no sense in any previous era in American culture, well this is that image, the image of a spouse’s luncheon. Now in one sense you could say that you’re looking at a certain moral revolution by the fact that it doesn’t say wives luncheon, as in future first ladies of the United States. Here’s something to note. We are in the year 2020. We are told that the United States has experienced this massive, unrelenting, comprehensive moral revolution and it has, and we’re told that just about everyone is on board with it. But that’s not exactly true because to date in the entire history of the United States of America, there has never been an incumbent in the White House who has had a husband. We came very close to having a president of the United States with a husband, but that president would have been the first woman president of the United States.

We’re now looking at an announcement for the candidate spouses luncheon in South Carolina, and almost none of this would make much sense to any American who might observe it just a matter of a decade ago, not to mention longer ago. You might put it another way. That revolution has explosively depicted in this invitation when you consider the fact that there are five figures, three of them are men, but only two of the men are married to women.

Part III

Just How Big is the Democratic Party's "Big Tent Coalition”? Evidently, Not Big Enough for a Pro-Life Democrat

Next, as we’re thinking about these issues at the end of the week, we remind ourselves of the deep partisan divide in the United States that is an even deeper worldview divide, but the two parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, it becomes shorthand for those two contradictory worldviews. Now, one of the interesting things we need to note is that the two parties are moving further apart and Americans are moving further apart on these issues because the issues are themselves following the logic, the internal logic of these parties. The issues are working their way through the parties, including issues such as same sex marriage, issues such as religious liberty, issues most importantly like abortion.

Now, just recently, Michael Barone, one of the most insightful political observers of the age has written a book entitled How America’s Political Parties Change (and How They Don’t). Now, one of the points he makes, and this is interesting is that the two parties in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans, started out from very different places, from different kinds of identities. He argues that the Republican party, the third oldest political party on the planet, emerged from Americans who thought of themselves as typical Americans. Thus, they were concentrated in the Midwest and the American heartland in the beginning. At the same time, the Democratic party, which is the oldest political party on planet earth at present, the Democratic party started and continues as a party that sees itself as a collection of those who are not typical Americans. Just to take one snapshot in history, in the middle of the 20th century, the Democratic party’s intensity was held by conservative Protestant Democrats in the South and increasingly immigrants such as Italian and Irish Catholic voters in the North. They saw themselves, both of them, as minorities in larger America so they banded together. Now you look at the Democratic party and you see that it’s a constellation of many different interest groups.

But in worldview analysis, the most interesting aspects of the Democratic party in 2020 are the fact that it is becoming increasingly secular, and of course it is becoming increasingly liberal. And we understand those two things go together. Liberal in this sense, not only when it comes to economic or policy issues, but even more importantly when it comes to cultural issues. Now Michael Barone in his book, How America’s Political Parties Change, points to the fact that the polarization we know now, the distinct identities of the Republican and Democratic parties come back primarily to cultural issues.

Writing of those few years that saw the transition from the 20th to the 21st century, Barone writes, “In this period, cultural issues on many of which there had never been partisan dispute, most notably abortion, were determinants of partisan allegiance, and the demographic factor most highly correlated with voting behavior was religion or degree of religiosity with the most religious in each sectarian group leaning Republican and the least religious leaning Democratic.”

Now, that book was published just a few months ago, and that means that it was written before the 2020 presidential cycle began. But just consider a headline that comes to us from Politico, “Liberals hope to finally oust anti-abortion Democrat.” In his book, Michael Barone writes about how the Democrats sloughed off, to use his word, conservatives. He writes that by 1980 it was almost a complete victory for eliminating any kind of candidates from Democratic possibility, but there were a few hangers on, and one of them at this point is at least pro-life to some degree, and he is an incumbent Congressman from Illinois, Dan Lipinski. And we saw just two years ago that his seat was endangered, not so much by a pro-life Republican running against him, but by an ardently pro-abortion Democrat seeking to unseat him as an incumbent Democrat.

Shia Kapos writing for Politico, tells us, “Illinois lawmaker Dan Lipinski is one of the few Democrats who opposes abortion rights and progressive activists say he’s too conservative for his district.” Now, let me point out here. That’s a partially if not largely dishonest argument. If he were actually too conservative for his district, he wouldn’t hold the seat, someone else would’ve been elected. The fact is that he is unquestionably too conservative on the issue of abortion to be allowed to remain in office with a D by his name. Later, Politico tells us, “Lipinski has been targeted by the left before, only to dust himself off and power through an eighth term, but liberals are putting the squeeze on him this election cycle, emboldened by the intraparty victories by challengers like representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez two years ago, and a progressive wing enraged by Donald Trump.”

Now as you’re thinking about the debate on Wednesday night and you’re thinking about this news story, understand that two of the leading candidates there in Las Vegas, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have both endorsed Congressman Lipitski’s Democratic opponent in the primary, Marie Newman, identified as a business woman and former marketing consultant. The same action was taken by Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first lesbian elected mayor of Chicago. She “recently threw her support to Newman saying, ‘Lipinski is on the wrong side of history.’”

Now wait just a minute. We’re now hearing that argument over and over again. Conservative Christians are on the wrong side of history for siding with Scripture. But hold on just a minute, we’re hearing that argument now almost every day and history doesn’t even move that fast. Now we are being told that anyone who in any way resists the sexual revolution is on the wrong side of history. Anyone who doesn’t endorse and celebrate and for that matter applaud same sex marriage is on the wrong side of history. Anyone who doesn’t celebrate every part of LGBTQ and what will follow, including polyamory and polygamy and all the rest is on the wrong side of history or soon to be on the wrong side of history. Anyone, in this case, who isn’t enthusiastic about abortion right up until the moment of breath is, we’re being told, on the wrong side of history. Let me point out something obvious. You can’t be on the wrong side of history unless you’re born.

But as we’re thinking about this particular story coming out of Illinois and it’s really powerful when you think about the worldview implications, I also want to point to something that doesn’t appear to have been caught as irony in this story. Let me read you exactly as it was written in and published in Politico. Quote, “His views,” meaning Congressman Lipinski, “His views on social issues aren’t aligning with the Democratic party’s big tent coalition, which is built more now on the strength of suburban women and people of color and less on the votes of rural white working class men that once defined Lipinski’s district,” said Lenae Erickson, an executive vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank. “That means we still need lots of moderate candidates, but the ones who prevail will likely be a different bred than the old blue dog social conservatives.”

Seriously? We are being told that this congressman’s social issues don’t align with the Democratic party’s big tent coalition. Well, then it’s not a very big tent. We are just told that this Congressman whose views Politico says reflect at least one third of Democratic voters, we’re being told that he’s outside the Democratic party’s big tent. But of course the Democratic party doesn’t really have a big tent, not on the issues that matter. When it comes to abortion, it’s not a big tent. It’s an extremely small and exclusive tent and only the most ardently pro-abortion are allowed entry, period. But the last sentence in this article is just as ironic, although few people are likely to catch it. Here you have a spokesperson for what’s identified as a centrist Democratic coalition, stating that centrist and moderate Democrats are still needed as candidates, but they can’t be like the old moderates who were moderate.

The new moderates can’t be in any sense, moderate. They have to be liberal who are only moderate when compared to the other liberals. And that takes us back to the debate stage in Las Vegas. There wasn’t anyone who was close to being conservative. There was not even anyone close to being moderate on that entire platform. The big tent isn’t very big. You’re talking about a spectrum from Bernie Sanders, the millionaire socialist, to Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire liberal.

But it all does share one characteristic with the big tent—it really is and was a circus.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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