briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

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

It’s Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Today’s No Ordinary Tuesday, It’s Super Tuesday: The Establishment of the Primary System and the Unintended Consequences of Early Voting

This is not only Tuesday. It’s not only primary day in 14 states. It’s Super Tuesday, designated that way for several presidential election cycles precisely because of the concentration of so many primary votes on a single day. The 14 states that will vote today in Super Tuesday primaries include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. That’s an incredible list. As a matter of fact, it represents a list that would constitute about 40% of the American electorate. In other words, four out of ten of the voters likely to go to the polls in November are in the states voting in primary elections today.

By the end of this process, likely known at least by the end of this week, there will be at least 1,357 delegates assigned, and there could be including superdelegates, about 1,617. That’s on the Democratic Party side of course, because it is the only party that has a genuine primary election cycle this time, given the fact that the incumbent president of the United States, Republican Donald Trump, is running for re-election, there is no real primary activity amongst the Republicans. But there has been a divide between the Republicans and the Democrats when it comes to the primary system for decades now. And in order to understand that, we need to take a look at why the primary system exists and how it came about.

That story takes us back to a former president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican. But that primary issue really comes to light because of the 1912 American presidential election in which Theodore Roosevelt was a candidate, but not the Republican candidate. Therein is the story. Roosevelt was a part of what has been known as the progressivist movement in American politics. That progressivist movement had a great deal to do with a newly invigorated federal government. It had to do with understanding that the United States was entering into what was self-consciously a new, very modern age. It had to do with increased regulations and concerns about government licensure and government certification for issues such as water and health and medicine. It also had to do with the progressivist understanding of the way the government should function and how elected officials should even be elected. Theodore Roosevelt became president, of course, when William McKinley was assassinated. He then won a full term in his own right. But then in 1912, after having been out of office as president for four years, he decided to run against his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft.

Roosevelt came to the conclusion that Taft was not an effective president, and he decided that the agenda that he had pushed in the White House would require him to return to the White House. Roosevelt, the former Republican president, ran in the eleven Republican primaries against the incumbent Republican president Taft, and Roosevelt won nine of the eleven contest—nine of eleven. Therefore Roosevelt believed that he was owed the 1912 Republican presidential nomination, but at the convention that year, the delegates gave the nomination to Taft rather than Roosevelt. Roosevelt and fellow progressives then ran against the party system, arguing that to deny primary voters their right to name the nominee, that party grandees were basically running the parties for their own interest. It took a matter of decades before that logic began to sink in further, but by the time you get to the modern presidential election era, primaries are basically taken for granted.

But it did take a while for this logic to take hold. That logic of Roosevelt goes back to 1912. Just eight years later in the Republican convention, Warren Harding was nominated as president of the United States carrying the Republican banner, and the Republican leaders made that decision in the infamous smoke filled room. That was room 404 in the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. Reporters looked in the room where the decision was being made by powerful Republican interests, and they saw men who were meeting in a cloud of smoke. Thus the smoke-filled room, and that phrase entered into America’s vocabulary. The smoke filled room thus became any context in which an elite usurps authority over the larger group. Four years later in 1924, the Democratic national convention went through a record 103 ballots. At the end of that process, they nominated John W. Davis as the Democratic candidate, but he lost to the then incumbent president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.

The Democratic Party in the last several decades has had a particularly tempestuous primary history. In 1952 Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver won 12 of the 14 primaries, and understandably, he believed himself to be due that party’s presidential nomination, but instead the party leaders gave it to Adlai Stevenson, the governor of Illinois. In 1968, a year of great political revolution, both in Europe and in the United States, the Democrats turned to the then vice president, Hubert Humphrey, even though Humphrey had not run in a single primary, leaving those candidates who did to be extremely resentful and bitter. And, of course, Humphrey lost in 1960 to Richard Nixon. But that led to another bout of consternation among the Democrats, and that was repeated in the year 2016 when Bernie Sanders, then as now running for the Democratic presidential nomination, charged that Democratic party leaders had plotted against him and his campaign in favor of the then former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

So by the time you get to the 2020 Democratic primary cycle, you’re looking at a process that has been revamped, reformulated, and debated controversially time and time again. And in this cycle, it is already apparent the Democrats do not yet have it right. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal got it right a few days ago when the Board noted, “Fourteen states hold primaries on Super Tuesday, but millions of votes will already have been cast for those contests. Democrats over the years have pushed to expand early voting to help their candidates, but they may soon rue the results.” As the editors said, “Super crazy March is possible.” Just consider this: since much of this voting began, no less than four Democratic challengers have dropped out of the race. Several of them in just the last two days, the most recent Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, but prior to her, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The point is this, many, if not all of those names will appear on the 14 state ballots in the primary today.

The Los Angeles Times summarize the issue in a headline for an article by John Myers. The headline, “Already voted for Buttigieg or Steyer? Sorry, no mulligans.” Now we know that we’ll go for Klobuchar as well. What we have seen in so many of these developments is that what is packaged and presented as reform turns out to tremendously complicate and sometimes to confuse the entire process. For example, you have so many people voting by absentee or various forms of what are called early voting, but that means that many of these voters are voting for candidates who will not even be in the race by the time the ballots are tallied.

Just consider the State of California. In 2018, the primary election cycle saw 67% of all Californians who voted in the primaries vote somewhere other than, “in an in-person polling location.” That is to say, almost seven out of ten voters voted somewhere other than a voting booth, some form of absentee ballot or early voting. And of course all of that is done in the name of increasing voter participation, but you really have to ask the question as to whether or not that strengthens democracy when there will be so many votes cast for candidates who are not even at that point in the race.

But amongst the Democrats, there is another significant complication that we should all keep in mind looking at the results as they come in tonight and likely into tomorrow. That is the Democratic party’s self-imposed 15% rule. What is that? It means that if candidates in their respective states, do not get at least 15% of the vote, they get no delegates. That’s a massive issue. That means that in order to gain delegates, the candidate has to have 15% or more, and that goes a long way towards explaining why Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg in particular dropped out of the race just before Super Tuesday. It is in order to help Joe Biden, the former vice president, exceed 15% in those crucial primaries, thus presenting what Democratic establishment figures hope will be a credible alternative to Bernie Sanders. But at least as we go into Super Tuesday today, it appears that Bernie Sanders has a lot of momentum, a very powerful organization, and in a state like California, an insurmountable lead. Furthermore, Buttigieg and Klobuchar are going to remain on the primary ballot, as if that’s not going to be confusing.

Part II

The Democratic Field Shrinks Again as Amy Klobuchar Ends Campaign: Then Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and O'Rourke Endorse Former VP Joe Biden

But next, we do have to look at the meaning of the withdrawal from the race of Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. She made her announcement to no surprise in its essence, but to a bit of surprise in its timing, but it makes perfect sense. Amy Klobuchar had hoped to become the first female president of the United States, the second Democratic nominee to be a woman, but she also had to capture that moderate reputation in the Democratic race, which as we have seen is actually not so moderate, but nonetheless, she was running as an establishment experienced Democrat. Being an experienced Democratic Senator representing a state like Minnesota, Klobuchar thought she had a very clear way of identifying herself as the answer to the Democratic problem’s challenges as reflected in the 2016 election when Democrats lost some of those key Midwestern states that made all the difference in the Electoral College.

But Klobuchar never really caught on with voters. She was very popular with the press, gaining many media endorsements, but not so much when it came down to the actual voting. But there are a couple of other complications behind the timing of the Klobuchar announcement, two in particular. By withdrawing from the race at this point, Amy Klobuchar avoids being charged with eliminating Joe Biden as a candidate, a credible contender against Bernie Sanders. It also means that Amy Klobuchar leaves herself far more available as a potential vice presidential nominee, but there is something else perhaps a bit more pressing. Polling indicated that Bernie Sanders might actually defeat her today in the Minnesota primary. That would have been a humiliation that might actually have injured her politically in her home state in a way that she certainly could not afford. And you really did see that Democratic establishment in action in Texas on Monday when Klobuchar was joined by Buttigieg and also by Beto O’Rourke, as they all endorsed Joe Biden, seeking to give him additional momentum in the Super Tuesday primaries, particularly in the state of Texas.

Part III

The First Real Test of Michael Bloomberg’s Candidacy: Can a Billionaire Manager Win (Buy) the White House?

But next, we also need to remind ourselves that today is the first major test of Michael Bloomberg on the ballot as a potential Democratic presidential nominee. Bloomberg, the former three term mayor of New York City, who held that office as both a Republican and an Independent, but is now running for the Democratic presidential nomination—Bloomberg decided that he would enter the race late and he decided to skip the early contests. Thus, today is D-Day for Michael Bloomberg. And you can’t say that he hasn’t put his money where his ambitions are. He has spent to date at least a half billion dollars on this political effort. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see. The tables full of food at his events offer food far beyond what the other Democrats could imagine or any presidential campaign has ever seen. He has hundreds and hundreds of staffers who seem to have an unlimited budget, and they have salaries that are, in some cases, multiples of the other campaigns.

In some of the voting areas, Michael Bloomberg has spent more on media buys than all the rest of the Democratic candidates put together. He is estimated to have between 50 and 60 billion dollars of personal wealth and has been listed recently as the ninth richest man in the world. Can he buy the Democratic presidential nomination? Well, we’re about to find out.

But there’s another aspect of Michael Bloomberg that should also have our attention. Jason Willick, writing for the Wall Street Journal, asked the right question. The headline is this: “What kind of voter supports Mike Bloomberg?” Well, let’s skip from the voter for a moment to the candidate and the kind of platform on which he is running. He is running as the consummate manager. Now that actually fits the mayoral office. Mayors have to deal with everything, from dogs running wild to potholes, to massive civic challenges, and of course budgetary challenges, bureaucratic complexity, and all the rest, especially when you’re looking at a city like New York City.

But the fact is that Mayor Bloomberg is running on a platform of competence. Here’s an interesting question. Are Americans looking for competence in the nation’s chief executive? Well, you could at least assume that Americans are not looking for incompetence, but the managerial personality has not fared well in American presidential politics, especially over the last several decades. One of the men who ran as a manager, a competent manager, was Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, and specialists of the presidency often look to the fact that even as Jimmy Carter had served as the governor of Georgia, and even as he saw himself as a businessman, he was often referred to as a peanut farmer, but it was actually not only a peanut farm, it was agribusiness. Jimmy Carter approached the presidency with a kind of managerial worldview. Historian’s record that didn’t go so well.

You can also look at other major presidential moments in particular. You can look to the 1960 presidential election in which John F. Kennedy, the Democrat, narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent vice president Richard Nixon. And, very famously, John F. Kennedy put together a cabinet and an administration, often referred to as the best and the brightest. He was looking for intellectuals, he was looking for managerial expertise. The cult of management began especially in the 20th century with the rise of modern business and the complexities of running a major modern industrial operation. Management became a major, business administration became a concern. Modern efforts and techniques of managerial competence were developed. And managers began to appear just about everywhere on the American landscape, but the one place that managers have not fared very well is in the Oval Office of the White House. There’s a reason for that. Americans are not really looking just for a manager in a president, they’re looking for a leader.

They’re looking for a certain kind of leadership that combines a certain kind of character and charisma and competence. And not only that, but a certain kind of visionary leadership, a certain kind of convictional representation. That’s what Americans are looking for. They’re looking for someone who will be commander in chief. They’re looking for someone who will represent the people of the United States before the watching world. They are not in general looking for managers. They’re looking for a leader who will hire managers. But in asking the question what kind of voter supports Mike Bloomberg, Jason Willick gets right to the point when he writes, “Watching the former New York Mayor campaign in three Super Tuesday states, I think of sociologist Daniel Bell’s 1960 book, The End of Ideology.” Bell, as Willick explains, who died in 2011, argued that, “We have witnessed an exhaustion of the 19th century ideologies,” which as Willick said, would give way to a politics focused on gradually improving lives to more effective administration.

Well, again, it turns out that Daniel Bell, though extremely insightful in many issues, was wrong about the end of ideology. You can’t look around the world today and believe that what we’re seeing is the end of ideology. Instead, we’ve seen the two political parties in the United States move ever further apart, divided at least to a considerable degree by ideology. Once again on the world scene, we see a great conflict of worldviews, which is a conflict of ideologies. In that respect, Daniel Bell was just wrong, but it’s going to be very interesting to see if nonetheless, a managerial personality running on a platform of managerial competence emerges as a legitimate contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. And when it comes to managerial competence, Mayor Bloomberg has built a very big lucrative business. That’s an understatement. It’s also clear that he has vast managerial competence when it comes to, not only making money, but spending money. We’re about to find out if managerial competence, backed up by billions of dollars, will actually add up to primary victories.

Part IV

Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan Priest and Proponent of Liberation Theology, Dies at 95

But finally, we turn to an obituary that ran in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, an obituary that is filled with theological importance. The reporter in this case was Elias E. Lopez. The headline: “Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan priest, poet, and revolutionary is dead at 95.” Lopez reports, “The Reverend Ernesto Cardenal, one of Latin America’s most admired poets and priests, who defied the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980s by serving in the revolutionary Sandinista Government of Nicaragua, died on Sunday in Managua, Nicaragua at age 95.” As Lopez reports, “Born to a wealthy Nicaraguan family, Father Cardenal became a prominent intellectual voice of the Nicaraguan revolution and an ardent proponent of liberation theology, a Christian movement rooted in Marxist principles and committed to social justice and uplifting the poor.” Lopez rightly observed, “He was appointed Nicaragua’s first minister of culture after the Sandinistas overthrew the dictator General Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979.”

Liberation theology had existed with growing influence in Latin America and elsewhere, and the Roman Catholic Church had basically allowed it to continue and expand its influence. But joining the Sandinista Government, was for the Vatican, a step too far, and Cardenal found himself on the wrong side of not only Pope John Paul II, but most particularly of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Interestingly, Cardenal was much more happily received by the current Pope Francis, who had restored him to his ministerial role after his predecessors had removed Cardenal’s ability to function as a priest. In an interview in 1984, Father Cardenal said, “Christ led me to Marx,” meaning Karl Marx. He said, “I don’t think the Pope understands Marxism. For me, the four gospels are all equally communist. I’m a Marxist,” said Cardinal, “who believes in God, follows Christ, and is a revolutionary for the sake of his kingdom.”

Americans of a certain age remember in particular the Sandinista Government for its atrocities and its hard line Marxism, it’s revolutionary character. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas were attempting to do what Fidel Castro had done in Cuba, they were trying to install a hard line communist government, and Ernesto Cardenal, the Roman Catholic priest was something of an enabler, ideologically and theologically for the Sandinista regime. Even as we have noted, accepting appointment in the Sandinista Government. But in that quotation I mentioned from 1984, Cardenal clearly identified himself as a Marxist and as a communist, and claimed that that was rooted in his understanding of the New Testament. He cited the example of Jesus. Well, that was too much for the Vatican then, and we should understand where this comes from. It comes from a movement known as liberation theology that was cited by Elias Lopez earlier in this obituary.

Liberation theology emerged particularly in a Roman Catholic context in the 1950s and gained an influence throughout most of the second half of the 20th century. People involved with liberation theology included theologians such as Leonardo Boff in Brazil, Jon Sobrino in Spain, Gustavo Gutierrez, most famously in Peru, and Juan Luis Segundo in Uruguay. What combined all of these theologians was their commitment to Marxism, and their substitution of the traditional Christian understanding of the gospel with a Marxist philosophy of praxis. Praxis means revolution, and it means the fulfillment of the communist system of economics and a totalitarian form of government, as always, in the name of the people. Totalitarian governments almost always claim to rule on behalf of the very people that they oppress. Key to liberation theology was what the liberation theologians called the preferential option for the poor. They cited various verses in Scripture that warned against the oppression of the poor, and in so doing they were certainly right, the poor are not to be oppressed, and Christianity calls for justice where the poor are being oppressed.

But at the same time, this principle of the preferential option for the poor, which in the name of the poor justified revolution, the total restructuring of society, and a recalibration of the scales of justice, runs into direct conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture in Exodus Chapter 23:2-3. “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit siding with the many so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.” The Christian worldview is built upon a biblical understanding of justice, and that means that the scales of justice cannot be weighted in one direction or the other. Justice means justice. And, of course, that is rooted in the very character of God. Our notion of justice is entirely dependent upon the fact that God, infinite in all of His perfections, is just. And in His Word, He has revealed to us what justice is.

And indeed the Bible repeats over and over again the fact that Christians are not to give a preferential option to the rich, and are certainly neither to oppress the poor, nor to cooperate in the oppression of the poor. But there is no authorization or justification in Scripture for Marxist revolution, nor for what the liberation theologians called either praxis or the preferential option for the poor. Of course, Christianity has to be translated into faithfulness in the economic and political spheres, but the New Testament does not authorize anything like Marxism. And of course, Marxism itself is based upon a worldview of dialectical materialism that is directly, in comprehensive totality, in contradiction to the biblical worldview.

It’s also interesting to note in this obituary for Ernesto Cardenal this statement, “Fascinated by evolution and its lessons for politics, Father Cardenal began to incorporate science into his poetry in the 1980s. He developed the theme until the end of his life marveling at the origins of the universe and the mysteries of DNA, sources of awe, that in his vision brought people closer to God. ‘In this monumental vision, everything merges and condenses.'”

Now, the problem here of course is not just the invocation of evolution. it’s the extension of the logic of evolution to the fact that, in the end, everything comes together, it merges and condenses. That kind of metaphysical utopianism is again, absolutely contradicted by the biblical account of eschatology. The problem of liberation theology, whatever its form, is not that it demands justice. The problem is that it thinks that justice can be defined in Marxist terms, that oppression can be defined according to sociological analysis steeped in Marxist ideology. And that a Marxist communist socialist revolution can bring about peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and the alleviation of injustice. As biblical Christians, we have to remind ourselves over and over again that the problem with every earthly ideology is not that it promises too much, but too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the biblical worldview, promises not less, but infinitely more.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orange County, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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