Thinking In Public

March 17, 2020

How Political Parties Change, How They Don’t Change, and Why They Matter: A Conversation With Michael Barone

Download MP3

Transcript

Albert Mohler:

This is Thinking in Public, a program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Michael Barone is a graduate of Cranbrook, a school near Detroit, Michigan. He's a graduate of Harvard College and the Yale law school. But he is not primarily known for the practice of law. Rather, he is primarily known for American politics of which he is the grand repository of information and a fascinating analyst.

He's the author of many books. Most importantly, he is the longtime coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics that began in the pivotal year in the United States of 1972. He is currently a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and he is the author of many books including the book we will discuss today, How America’s Political Parties Change (and How They Don’t). Many Americans know him from Fox News. He also appears in many other media outlets and he has of course written for the Washington Post and National Review, the Federalist Society, Real Clear Politics. He is currently the senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. I'm looking forward to this conversation with Michael Barone.

Over 15 years ago, I wrote an article in which I said of Michael Barone that when it comes to the data of American politics, if Michael Barone does not know it, it probably cannot be known. Mr. Barone, you have an expertise when it comes to American politics that I think is frankly unrivaled, but you are also interested in the larger patterns of American political and social history. So how does that come together in your mind?

Michael Barone:

Well, one of the things that fascinates me is that, and it has since I was a child, was how we have this steady calendar of elections going back out to 1789. Every four years, we elect a president. Every two years, we elect a congress. So actually it gets a little more complicated than that-

Albert Mohler:

Sure.

Michael Barone:

... in 19th century because they voted in different months. But I sort of liked the regularity of it. And as I've grown older and as I've tried to write about it and learn more and live my life, one of the things that I've noticed is that within that regularity, there can be an awful lot of change, an awful lot of vivid emotions and strong feelings, an awful lot of very inspiring leadership and also a certain amount of demagoguery. These things don't necessarily come at regular intervals. So that's what I've been trying to understand, appreciate and perhaps, I hope, explain and help other people understand.

Albert Mohler:

Well, you've been doing that for a long time. I was 13 years old when the first edition of The Almanac of American Politics came out. And I can't claim to have looked at it or read it when I was 13. But by the time the second edition of The Almanac of American Politics came out, I was already hooked and have been ever since. There's one sense that looking at America congressional district by congressional district, you can get bogged down in the machinery of what it takes to get elected to Iowa's third district. But I appreciate the fact that in your most recent book, and by the way I find that fascinating, but the bigger question is, what does all this mean? You've written a new book and it has an intriguing title, How America’s Political Parties Change (and How They Don’t). Now a title like that means you've got a point to make.

Michael Barone:

Well, I've got a point to make and I started writing the first edition of this Almanac of American Politics, it has descriptions of every state, all 435 congressional districts came out in November, 1971. And I basically co-author wrote all the text and I did that, read about all that text or edited it for about 40 years. I don't do as much anymore, but I saw a certain amount of change in our political system. But one of the things that fascinates me, and one of the things that I think most Americans don't fully appreciate is how old our political parties are.

You can find plenty of people on the street who will say bad things about the Republicans and bad things about the Democrats, bad things about both political parties. But they've been around for an awfully long time. The Democratic party formed, by my reckoning, 1832, the oldest political party in the world. That Republican party formed in 1854, third oldest political party in the world. They were both formed to address the initial issues. The Democrats to defeat rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States and reelect Andrew Jackson. The Republicans, to stop slavery in the territories.

And within a dozen years, both parties were successful in those original goals, but they have persisted ever since. So I thought there's kind of an interesting story here, I think. Why have they persisted so long? And why, despite what I've seen during my writing lifetime of predictions that one party or the other was going to go out of business would be supplanted, had to step aside, that they continue to structure our American politics.

Albert Mohler:

Well, indeed they do. And in one sense there's been a great reversal and questions such as at least the impression of Americans when it comes to civil rights issues and other developments, even some economic issues that those are generalizations that are unfair. But nonetheless, the fact is that the civil rights legislation in the 1960s was really made possible by Northern Republicans voting against Southern Democrats, especially in the congress. But you point out that there's a continuity.

And early in your book, you point to the fact that the Republican party has always been formed around a core of people who consider themselves, by themselves and others to be typical Americans, although they were never by themselves a majority. And then you speak of the Democratic party as always been a combination, a coalition of people who are not thought of by themselves or others as typical Americans, but who often together form a majority. Well, that was then, and it is now.

Michael Barone:

Well, that was then, and that is now and we're seeing you've summarized my descriptions very accurately. And we're seeing this play out in our presidential primaries. The Republican voters seem to be almost entirely in line with President Trump. And when you go back in history, Republican voters have tended to support Republican presidents. The one exception is when a former Republican president ran against an incumbent Republican president, 1912.

Albert Mohler:

Right.

Michael Barone:

But Republicans have stayed faithful to their presidents, that core group has stuck with the president once he's in office. Even one like President Trump who had a lot of opposition within the party in 2016 when he was running for the nomination. The Democratic party split up into core groups. So you have people representing how are black voters in South Carolina going to vote in that South Carolina primary that's coming later this month? We didn't have very many black voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, we didn't have many black people living there. And so that's a question.

You have the question of cultural liberals and you have a sort of fight between them. The debate last night between Senator Amy Klobuchar, who would like to be the second consecutive woman to be nominated for president by the Democratic party and Pete Buttigieg who would be the first gay candidate endorsed by an openly gay candidate, endorsed, nominated by one of our two major political parties if he wins his quest for the Democratic nomination. They sure don't like each other for reasons that, not just the type of person they represent, but also just apparently the personal chemistry.

You got Michael Bloomberg from New York city, a billionaire with amazing amount of money. You have Bernie Sanders a socialist. The Democratic party is a mixed bag. And one of the questions that seems to be raised by the course of these primaries is, will they all get together and unite after this convention? Or will it be more like 1968 and 1972 when the disparate wings of the Democratic party were not able to come together and win an election victory?

Albert Mohler:

You can even just go back to 2016 when perhaps disillusioned or angry, Bernie Sanders supporters didn't turn out in adequate numbers to elect Hillary Clinton, at least in the electoral college. So it's recent.

Michael Barone:

Well, if you looked at where Hillary Clinton fell short of where other recent Democratic nominees have run, not only winning candidates like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but losing nominees like John Kerry and Al Gore, she ran way behind in the out state Midwest in the Midwestern states, industrial states, Pennsylvania, Florida, outside the major metro areas, the million plus metro areas. Those areas were just about all carried by Bernie Sanders in the primaries against Hillary Clinton.

Albert Mohler:

Right.

Michael Barone:

And so some of the voters there that preferred Bernie Sanders to her evidently didn't vote for her in the general election.

Albert Mohler:

In one sense, and I think back to when I was a volunteer in the Reagan campaign as a 16 year old in 1976. And then I worked in the Ford campaign. I am a Southern Baptist. I'm president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Jimmy Carter was the Southern Baptist running for president but I didn't support it.

Michael Barone:

Born again Christian.

Albert Mohler:

Yes absolutely. Injected that term largely into the national discourse. But the reason I raised 1976 was that once Carter won, I began seeing all of these arguments that the Democrats now had a majority, it was unassailable. The Democratic party was once again, the permanent majority party controlling the house, the senate, most of the governorships, and of course, the presidency. And I was very interested as you began your book, you don't say this, but it's in your analysis.

And that is that the Democrats continually are certain that they can't lose because there are so many people who aren't Republicans. But as it turns out, they do repeatedly lose, especially in presidential elections because the Democrats just as you pointed out, are such a disparate collection that if any part of that collection gets disillusioned or unmotivated, you've got a Republican president.

Michael Barone:

Well, that is one of the problems, that holding together a party that in 1924 at its national convention took 103 ballots before they could select a presidential candidate. That was a classic example of a divided Democratic party. They had a resolution at that convention to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, which was mainly an anti-Catholic outfit in the 1920s, also anti-black. That resolution sailed by something like four votes out of 2000 delegate votes, some very large number. That illustrates what a huge cultural split there was in the Democratic party.

On the other hand, you had Jimmy Carter still carrying the South in his 1976 run for president. And you had memories of Lyndon Johnson being reelected or elected to a full term in 1964 with 61% of the votes. So Democrats kind of assumed that they were the majority, but that 76 election I think was interesting in one way because the map of the states carried is almost direct opposite of what we've seen in more recent elections. And one of the reasons was that both parties happened to nominate candidates that came from their historic heartlands but where their support was receding.

Jimmy Carter from South Georgia from the deep South, which had been heavily Democratic for many years but became less so indeed in 1980, one of the reasons he did not carry the South anymore. And Gerald Ford from out-state Michigan, part of that area of the New England diaspora, those New England reformers who formed the Republican party in the 1850s. And that area was going against the Republican party in part because of Watergate honesty issues and war and peace issues and so forth. So there's various currents and there's this other little thing that comes along called events that happened and foreign policy events which no president can fully control.

You had Jimmy Carter dealing with the Iran hostage crisis. That was certainly something that we can get him going into the 1980 election. When I was growing up, we heard about how the Democratic party had a natural majority based on five straight presidential wins from 1932 to 48. But when you look at those 1940 and 44, and I would argue also 1948 wins by the Democratic party, an important part of their victory, maybe key part, were foreign policy issues. President Roosevelt won a third term and large part because the world was in crisis.

Hitler and Stalin were allies, they were in command of most of the territory of Eurasia. This was an Orwellian moment and Roosevelt was a proven leader. And he might've lost the election if it was decided on domestic issues but it was decided, I would argue, on foreign policy issues and he won a third term. The only time a president in history has ever done that or ever will. So every time people are seeking reasons why one party must always go on to win and the other party disappears, somehow the other party manages to rebound, to figure out a new way to win, to take advantage of an emerging issue or crisis. And so these parties suffered huge losses. The Republicans in 1932, the Democrats in 1920, other political disasters much worse than anything they've encountered in our lifetime, they both bounce back.

Albert Mohler:

I think I remember many, many years ago reading in your book, Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan. I think I remember you mentioned the 1924 Democratic national convention. I think I remember that you said that William Howard Taft was an observer at that meeting.

Michael Barone:

Yeah. Well, I started off at 1924, 1920s because the book was kind of a political narrative 1930 to 1988 and published in 1990. And I wanted to see an America political system operated for the eyes of people that didn't know the depression in 1930s was going to change political alignments as stunningly as it did. And so my two characters were William Howard Taft, the former president who in the 1920s was chief justice and who died in March, 1930, at a time when nobody knew that the stock market crash of a few months before was going to lead to a very major economic downturn.

And Charles F. Murphy, who was the head from 1902 to his death in 1924 of Tammany Hall in New York, who was a very smart political entrepreneur and who once again, did not know that there was a depression coming, but who pioneered a new kind of Democratic politics in what was then the largest state in the country and one that tended to vote roughly around the national average. So those characters, they didn't know there was a depression coming and they didn't know that many analysts would say the depression will make the Democratic party the majority forever, which it didn't do, but they certainly did win some elections for some period of time.

Albert Mohler:

There are just some pictures though I wish I could see. I wish I could see a press photograph, hopefully candid not post, of the former president of the United States, a Republican and a Republican appointed chief justice to the United States Supreme Court, sitting as an observer in a large chair, no doubt of the Democratic national convention there in 1924. Just one of those pictures I wish I could've seen. Because you can look back and say, "Okay, this was a big turning point in American history." Not just that election or convention, but as you point out that era.

In that book, and I remember reading it when it came out in 1990 and I remember that early on in that book, you make the point that the basic dividing lines in America, even the partisan dividing lines are more cultural than economic. And my first thought is, well, that's interesting when compared to other nations, I'd like to talk about that in just a moment, such as Britain. But I think your thesis was right then, and there is a sense of which, I think your newest book is just picking up the very same thesis, that the basic dividing lines are cultural before they are economic.

Michael Barone:

Well, yeah. I mean, I grew up in Michigan in the 1950s when politics really was kind of an economic thing. UAW was the Democratic party.

Albert Mohler:

Right.

Michael Barone:

Auto company managements, the Republican party and so forth. You assumed anybody driving a Cadillac would vote Republican, et cetera. Those days are gone. And as I looked around American history, wrote about it, it seemed to me politics more often splits us along cultural lines than along economic lines. Although economic issues are important and have been pivotal. I mean, the Civil War was not fought over the terror for some economic issue, it was a lot over a cultural issue.

Albert Mohler:

That's right.

Michael Barone:

Is human slavery right or wrong? And that was a cultural issue. One of the things I looked at in this book is that the two political parties, the Republican centered around a core constituency of supposedly typical Americans, the Democratic party is a coalition of people who see themselves as members of out groups. That gives appropriate choices to a very large majority of people in a country that has always been culturally diverse. We hear a lot of these academics and quota meisters say, "We're suddenly a diverse country. We used to just all be white bread people." Not so.

We've always been a culturally diverse country and the founders recognize that in particular with respect to religion. I mean, most countries in Europe, most countries in the rest of the world had sort of one religion that you were pretty much supposed to follow and adhere to and so forth. The British North American colonies were founded by Calvinist, Quakers, Catholics, Anglicans, there were Jews settling there. We were a multicultural country from the very founding of the republic and the founding of the seaboard colonies.

And the founders recognize this when they said with congress you will have religious freedom in the first amendment or free exercise thereof and congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion. States could have or establish religions, some of them continued theirs until the 19th century, or they could abolish them. We wouldn't have a federal established religion because that wasn't going to work in a country with so many different religious traditions. Freedom and tolerance were going to work. And that was a good insight then and I think it's an insight that we do well to reflect on now.

Albert Mohler:

That brings to mind, at least in my mind, the work Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer about the separate immigrations from the United Kingdom to the United States, and settling in different regions, how that became culturally determinative of, I should say not only what those regions became then, but those differences endure now.

Michael Barone:

Well, you see them now. I mean, the New England states, now the Calvinist is settled that the Puritans, as they were called were a group that was highly moralistic but also sort of intolerant of differences from their moral code and the way they ran their colonies. And you see that a lot in the New England liberals today, don't you?

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Barone:

They've got various moralisms that may very well include recycling your trash. But they verge on the risk of intolerance of those who don't share their views. And that's been a motif that we've seen going back 400 years now.

Albert Mohler:

And it's not an accident that the most military friendly, let's just say, the most aggressive portion of the United States has been South of the Appalachians and basically the South. And that was true when Dixiecrat Democrats were the majority in the congress. It's true now when most of those congressional seats are held by Republicans.

Michael Barone:

Well, that's right. I mean, one of the things that you get in American history is that the South, which of course, white southerners secede, we get the Civil War. But the military tradition is very strong there in that Jacksonian tradition of people in the Hill Country and the Appalachian chain contained people who both vote for the confederacy and for the union. And David Hackett Fischer's kind of Albion Jacksonian thing, Andrew Jackson, who was parents emigrated from Northern Ireland two years before he was born.

Albert Mohler:

Sure.

Michael Barone:

Basically, you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone, but if you threaten my family or my country, I'll kill you. And that has been a response that continues to echo throughout our history. The novelist Philip Roth, interestingly was so perceptive about people from his own cultural milieu in New York and so forth, got that wrong in his novel about World War II in which he was imagining that somehow there would be a fascist takeover in the United States. He has the South, as the place where the Nazi movement would be strongest. When we were attacked in 1941, it was the South that rallied most and in the period before that, if you look at public opinion surveys, the South was most supportive of aiding Britain in the war of quarantine oil from Japan and so forth that of taking forward looking response to military aggression and dictatorship overseas.

Albert Mohler:

You can look at American politics from many different dimensions. And one of the ways of thinking about it is that you can take the macro picture as if you're looking at the national landscape through a telescope or you can take the micro perspective and basically there are those who can look at American politics as if looking through a microscope. Rare are those who can do both. Michael Barone is one of those very rare individuals.

Albert Mohler:

Now in your newest book, you talk about how parties change and how they don't and let's just stipulate something up front and perhaps clarify it. The United States is a two party system. I think you could argue that from certainly the beginning of the 19th century, it was a two party system, just two different parties. And given the shape of the electoral college, it's likely to be permanently a two party system. And so it really is just a question of which those two parties are going to be. And ever since the Civil War, we've pretty much known who those parties were.

Michael Barone:

Well, that's right. It's been the Democratic and the Republican party. You had the emergence of a progressive party in 1912 that nominated former president Theodore Roosevelt, highly popular, who had been the record winning popular vote getter up to that point in our history. Ran candidates in most non Southern congressional districts in 1912 and again in the 1914 yet by 1916 and 1918, it was gone. The institutional forces of the single member district and the electoral college work against it. But I think there's something more fundamental.

I think the two political parties that have each its own separate character personality DNA as I call it, has fulfilled the needs for the vast majority of voters as a form of expressing their views. And of what should be done and of giving them what they considered to be suitable alternatives, at least one of which is acceptable. And that that has had a continuing force and is likely certainly to have a continuing force. When you've been dealing with 188 and 166 year old parties, maybe there's something lasting about them that appears even after they suffer some political setbacks.

Albert Mohler:

The kind of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. theory of American history, The Vital Center and all that, basically coming from the left or the center left, it made the argument that there is this great center in American politics that created what they at least refer to as a bipartisan consensus from say 1950 to 1960, 64, somewhere in there. But you point out the fact that it never was exactly that. But it is also true that if you fast forward to 2020, the two political parties are now sorted out. To use your language, the Republican sloughed off the liberals and the Democrats sloughed off the conservatives. So how did that happen and why?

Michael Barone:

Well, it happened in various stages, but basically the parties attract their constituencies over the years. And some of them stay with the party for a long time because the things that impel them to be part of that party are very fundamental, are important them. Others change, and of course the parties themselves, through some combination of calculation and conviction, respond to trends in the society coming, they respond to important events by trying to gain among voters that they haven't been winning over before and win new voters and hold onto their current voters.

And so you have who were the conservatives in the Democratic party, at least conservatives on civil rights and on many economic issues in the period when Arthur Schlesinger was starting his notable career as a historian circa 1952 to which you refer. Well, why were these southerners Democrats? Well, there was the Civil War. Why was Georgia the number two state for John F. Kennedy in 1960? There weren't many Catholics voting in Georgia. There weren't many black people voting in Georgia at that point but it was the number two state for John F. Kennedy. There were no industrial unions there. Well, Sherman had marched through 96 years before and they were still mad about it.

Albert Mohler:

They still are mad about it.

Michael Barone:

They still are mad about it.

Albert Mohler:

I mean politically they're still affected.

Michael Barone:

Enduring and searing political event. I mean, my father asked his grandfather, who was from West Virginia, why he was voting for Dewey in 1944? And my grandfather said, "That's easy." He said, “the confederates burned down a barn.” So that remained for a long time. And essentially, when the civil rights issue was resolved legislatively, when the South accepted that legislation, white southerners who had resisted violently sometimes the integration accepted it.

And when you moved on to other issues, whether it was economic issues, if enterprise, whether it was foreign policy issues in which I've explained that the South was always the more inclined to support military action and that favored the Republicans after the mid 1960s that would favor the Democrats a half century before, and a whole catalog of issues. The white southerners were more sympathetic to Republicans and Democrats. And they have been in general voting that way ever since in reputing any Jimmy Carter insignificant numbers after one term and then becoming a key block on the Republican side.

The liberal Republicans, why were they Republicans if they backed a lot of new deal type spending measures and so forth and invention as foreign policy? Well, they were Republicans because they didn't like the big city bosses, Democratic political bosses who they felt were corrupt. They didn't like what they thought were violent, corrupt labor unions. They didn't like segregationists. These were three major elements of the Democratic parties they didn't like. Well, what happened? Those elements basically go away.

I've talked about how the South ceases to be segregationist and the labor unions peak membership in 1955, the political bosses after 1968 are not really a major factor in the Democratic party. And so these people are their offspring, basically say, "I'm actually more of a Democrat than a Republican." So the historical forces at some point become less relevant than other issues. And so we've got that sorting, around that 1950 period, you had the major political scientists, E. E. Schattschneider. The American Political Science Association says that you pass all these set up committees to urge that we have a clearly liberal and a clearly conservative party, that that would be much better than having parties of mixed ideology.

"Give the voters a clear choice," they said. Well, their prayers have been answered. They have that now. And what do we hear from political scientists? Well, they don't like all this polarization and party ideology. And how can we bring back the good old days of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats? Well, we'll see how as issues change and so forth, we'll see how things pan out. I mean, in fact, we have been living since the 1990s in a period of very little political change among people, very marginal change. The election in 2000, 2004, 2008 would swing somewhat towards the Democrats, 2012, all look pretty much the same.

Michael Barone:

And the easy way to predict how any state will vote is just predict it'll vote the same way it did last time, you're going to win money on that. 2016, we obviously have some changes. They're not huge in terms of number of total votes switched or the number of votes as a percentage of the national total. They are enough to change the result from the expected win for Hillary Clinton to win for Donald Trump. And we see particularly white, non-college grads in the Midwest, in Pennsylvania and in Florida, which is full of people from the Midwest and Pennsylvania and other places in the Northeast, and so forth.

We see some change among that group. It's not as big as the change between say the 1976 election where you got your star political operative in 1980, four years later. Not to mention 1984 where you get a huge change and so forth. Those were bigger changes than we've seen more recently. But the parties are still fighting it out and you hear that the Trump Republican party is talking about trying to win more votes among black voters and Hispanic voters, particularly young men who don't favor the sort of big government programs and so forth and have perhaps much the same outlook as white, non-college, young men who are white, non-college, who had trended towards Trump.

We see the Democrats have been making gains among high income people, the white college grads, some people would say they're indoctrinated by the left wing faculty, whatever. Clearly there's been a move in that direction. It's been kind of slow and glacial starting in the 1990s and then it speeded up in the 2016 election and then particularly in the 2018 election where these white college grad, women in particular but men also, in affluent suburbs could cast their vote to at least limit president Trump and his party by giving the Democrats a majority in the house. We'll see if they continue to feel that way when they're voting, not just for the house, but for the president and both houses of congress.

Albert Mohler:

I think it's really CNN, at least as I remember, came up with the map red and blue as we know it now. And it pretty much gets reduced to that. And that often, I think sets up a false expectation. Sometimes elections don't turn out that way. I'm talking about presidential elections, but early on reading as I said, starting as a teenager, The Almanac of American Politics, you trained me to think of the house of representatives. And of course with an electoral college, all the states being equal with the credit for two senators. But then when you add in the house, district by district, that's still where elections are won.

Michael Barone:

Yeah, it's still where elections are won. And we've seen a different pattern from when I started writing that on that Almanac book. Then you had people split their tickets in the South in particular, but many places outside the South as well. Today, you have basically straight ticket voting. 2012, I think we saw a record number of state straight tickets. In other words, every district that Mitt Romney carried almost elected a Republican congressman. Every district that Barack Obama carried elected a Democratic congress minority about 30 members of the 435 member house that were out of line with their party.

If you go back to say 1972, when president Nixon was reelected over George McGovern, McGovern carries only 89 districts, but the Democrats end up with a majority in congress. The other 300 and some districts that McGovern didn't carry, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. In other words, half the Nixon districts voted for a Democrat for congress.

Albert Mohler:

Not anymore. I want to test a thesis with you, maybe a couple of them in the time we have. One of them is that the basic polarization is the fact that given the cultural issues you're talking about, which are inseparable in one sense from the political, social, and economic issues, the parties are now sorting themselves out according to a basic logic. I mean, I can't imagine there are too many people who are politically aware, who spend any time trying to figure out if they're Republicans or Democrats. It's now pretty much a sorted nation, that is S-O-R-T-E-D. T-E-D, not sordid but sorted. And I think it's going to remain that way from what I can tell.

Michael Barone:

Well, you have an issue like the abortion issue. When that first emerged after Roe v. Wade came down in 1973, we'd had a series of abortion liberalization laws in the States in the five years proceeding Roe v. Wade that affected a third of the country. But nonetheless, it nationalized the issue, one size fits all and so forth. Those issues split the parties down the middle of the abortion issue. There were lots of pro-life Democrats, lots of pro-choice Republicans and so forth.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Barone:

By the 1990s, you've got those pretty much, it's just the Democratic party is pretty clearly the pro-abortion rights party. To use terminology, people that few tend to hold. I can remember ascending with the late columnist Bob Novak up to see in the high reaches up towards the bleacher seats in the convention hall that Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey, a pro-life anti-abortion rights governor of one of the nation's largest states who was denied a speaking spot at the convention. He couldn't speak because he was against legalizing abortions. And the Republican party was pretty much a party against legalized abortions or to reduce or place greater restrictions on abortion. And that's continued to this day.

Other cultural issues come along and kind of split the parties' constituencies, but they don't totally reform them. The same-sex marriage issue, which had minimal support in the mid 1990s and now is a majority position in the country. That was supported more by Democrats than Republicans. But the first national political office holder who supported it was vice president Dick Cheney.

Albert Mohler:

Quietly.

Michael Barone:

Quietly, but he did. So that issue does not split along party lines, but the cultural issues are important to people. I can remember a lot of liberal politicians saying, "Well, we're voting to give these poor people more money or programs that are going to line, put money in their pockets. Why are they going off on an irrelevancy like abortion?" And of course the answer to that is your own rich constituents who will pay higher taxes if your party wins nonetheless support it because of their views on abortion.

Albert Mohler:

That's right.

Michael Barone:

There are issues which have moral content-

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Barone:

... which relate to the moral values by which people lead or try to lead their lives, believe people should lead their lives that are very important to people. And when you bring those into politics, when you make them a one size fits all issue nationally as that Roe v. Wade decision did on abortion. People are going to vote their views on those issues and those issues are going to be more important to many people than the issues that you wish were important because they'd vote your way then.

In some ways, that's really a recognition that we have always been a culturally diverse country, religiously diverse, regionally diverse, diverse in some aspects of our moral values. We've been economically diverse and so forth. And that continues to this day. And it's one of the things, in a way it is a sort of miracle that we were able to come up with two political parties, which were both capable of winning national majorities and pleasing a majority of voters. That's not necessarily true in other political systems. And you could have a political system that can produce election results which are large majority consider absolutely unacceptable. And then you have real problems.

Albert Mohler:

And I have another theory I want to test with you. And that is that conservatives in general, and clearly I am one, and Republicans specifically are more ideologically forgiving than is the cultural left. And I think that's true across societies. I mean, you can see it in the 1968 revolutions in Europe and the development of the left. So for instance, it's imaginable, in fact, it's real. The Republicans nominated Donald Trump to be President of the United States and even on the abortion issue, which is a seen quantum for Democrats, and particularly for conservative Christians.

Here you have someone that as recently as 2009, had articulated a basically pro-choice position to use the language he used, but clearly is now eagerly embraced by the pro-life movement and pro-life voters. But meanwhile, I'm watching what goes on in the left and on the left, it's almost as if you have to have been born as an adult in 2020 with no past if you're going to be able to pass the litmus test, always moving leftward now, of the Democratic party. So I take as axiomatically true what you say about the two parties with the Republicans thinking of themselves as representing the average American, a typical American. And the Democrats, thinking of themselves as interest groups who coalesced together, but they're going to have a real hard time holding together.

Michael Barone:

Well, I think they are going to have a hard time holding together and we're seeing some of that work out right now. You have these interest groups competing with each other and the transgender rights has been one of the great causes that has been asserted by the cultural left over recent years. They're coming up against some feminists on the issue of high school athletics.

Albert Mohler:

Inevitably.

Michael Barone:

College athletics. Should persons born as male with male body characteristics, be able to compete in women's sports? Well, state of Connecticut says they can and they got a couple of these individuals who are winning all the races and the young women who have been training for a long time and who have been working to achieve a form of excellence are not getting their championships.

Albert Mohler:

Or their scholarships.

Michael Barone:

Yeah a little bit, but I think in some ways the honor is more important than the money to these individuals. They've worked for some-

Albert Mohler:

Sure. Martina Navratilova is making the same case in professional athletics.

Michael Barone:

Yeah, so there's a certain amount of that. My view is that you tend to get more tolerance on the cultural right. I know many people on the cultural left would disagree with that. Say we're basically tolerant, of course you have to go along with our program completely and so forth. This is part of our politics and one of the problems for the Democratic party, I think, has been this sort of an assumption that many on the political left have, let's have no enemies on the left. Well you end up getting yourself in bed with, or at least in a political coalition with some people who have ideas that just don't hack politically, that repel a majority of people.

So you've got Democrats coming out against, we're going to decriminalize illegal border crossing, we're going to do things of that nature, which I think they're bidding for support from certain vocal groups or people who claim to be representative of an important part of the Democrats voting constituency or potential constituency, but who are making demands that really go beyond what a majority of the voters can go along with. And we've seen that on the abortion issue when you've got the state of New York passing and Democratic legislators in Virginia at least considering legalizing abortions up to the moment of birth, ninth month abortions.

Albert Mohler:

New York has done it.

Michael Barone:

New York has done it. Do we want a ninth month abortion? Do we have one hospital, you've got people spending extraordinary effort in high tech, keeping alive a premature baby that weighs just a couple of pounds and so forth and then at another site not far away, you're taking such a baby or one that's plainly viable and killing them. Is that acceptable practice? Well, I think there's a potential vulnerability there. Most of the standard traditional press will not press this issue because most of them are abortion rights advocates.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Barone:

I think ninth month abortion is not a winning platform nationally unless you can obscure what you're actually for.

Albert Mohler:

Well said there. I want to make one push back just a little bit on something you said just as a matter of record. When you were talking about the difference between the abortion issue and it salients in the parties versus something like the same sex marriage. And here I'll say, I think you're right to a certain extent, but where the great division is enduring is over religious liberty issues in conflict with the regime of same-sex marriage.

Michael Barone:

Well, that's right. Are we going to force churches to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies?

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely.

Michael Barone:

Well, that goes against the free exercise of religion.

Albert Mohler:

Or are we going to strip recognition of Christian colleges and universities?

Michael Barone:

Well, that's the argument that the person who cost the Democrats the 2016 presidential election, was Donald Verrilli.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely, solicitor general.

Michael Barone:

The solicitor general, very able lawyer in the Obama administration. And when the Obama administration was arguing for what became the result of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage everywhere, he was asked by Justice Alito, "Does this mean that you would withdraw tax exemption from churches that don't recognize this?" And there's precedent going back to segregation.

Albert Mohler:

Sure.

Michael Barone:

Interracial dating issues in the early 1980s that the justice was referring to. And Donald Verrilli said, "Well, that's an issue we'll have to look at down the road."

Albert Mohler:

Yeah. His exact quote was, "It will be an issue," which was astoundingly candid. It will be an issue.

Michael Barone:

It will be an issue. And so many people can imagine plausibly that their church will lose its tax exemption and may have to go out of existence because it won't perform same-sex marriages. Well, I take counsel on this one from Andrew Sullivan who was one of the first advocates of same-sex marriage back 30 something years ago, Jonathan Rauch, they're both friends of mine. And they'd basically say, "You know what? We shouldn't be trying to make everybody accept same-sex marriages, conduct them and so forth. People want to have churches that don't accept this. That's fine. They should have a nice day," and so forth. And I think that's in line with what has been, I think, the prevailing spirit of religious freedom and religious tolerance in this country.

Albert Mohler:

Right.

Michael Barone:

But you have some people that really want to press this and they're going to sue the florist who won't provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. When my experience at least is that it's not difficult to find a florist who will provide flowers for a same-sex marriage.

Albert Mohler:

You've been generous with your time. I want to ask you about one final dichotomy that you write about. And this was really a book several years ago, I guess 15 years ago now. Hard America, Soft America. I traffic in collecting these kinds of dichotomies, polarizations. At the very same time you wrote your book, John Sperling said America's divided between the metro and the retro regions. Well, that was a put down to rural America, but you talk about hard and soft, will you play that out just a little bit? Because I think you were right then, I think you're just as right now.

Michael Barone:

Well, hard America, I said is the parts of American life where you have accountability and standards of accountability and soft America's where you don't. And basically I said why does America have incompetent 18 year-olds and competent 30 year-olds? And the answer is for 12 years in most of our schools, they're kind of soft America. They really don't have much accountability. And competition and accountability, everybody gets a medal, everybody passes all that stuff and we don't really care if people learned things.

From ages 18 to 30, people are in competitive colleges, people are in vocational training. People are in the military, people are in a variety of things where they're in hard America, where there is competition and accountability and people keeping track. And that elicits more performance, more competence, more skills, more creativity from people. Ultimately, you don't want a country that's all hard or all soft. All soft breeds incompetence and inability to defend itself, all hard imposes too many standards on people with different stages of their lives.

We don't expect Marine Corps bootcamp standards for kindergartners and so forth. But we want to have achievement and standards and accountability in parts of America that work, some of which you wouldn't... Special Olympics is hard America. You have to do certain things. The contestants do certain things before they get a prize. They have to accomplish something that presents a challenge to them. And that's part of hard America and it's one of the reasons it's been an institution that works pretty well. And as I say, a lot of our schools have been too much soft America and leaving young people short of the talents, abilities, work habits that would serve them well as young adults.

Albert Mohler:

Michael Barone, I knew this would be a fascinating conversation. It has not disappointed. I want to thank you for joining me today for Thinking in Public.

Michael Barone:

Well, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for reading my book.

Albert Mohler:

Thanks for listening to Thinking in Public. If you enjoyed this episode, you'll find more than 100 more of these conversations at albertmohler.com under the tab Thinking in Public. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. Thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public. Until next time, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

 

Topics

Abortion Adultery Anglicanism Animals Art & Culture Ask Anything Atheism Bible Birth Control Books Childhood Church & Ministry Church History College & University Coronavirus Court Decisions Death Divorce Economy & Work Education Embryos & Stem Cells Environment Ethics Euthanasia Evangelicalism Evolutionism Family Film Gambling Heaven and Hell History Homosexuality Islam Jesus & the Gospel Law & Justice Leadership Manhood Marriage Mormonism Obituaries Parental Rights Pluralism Politics Population Control Pornography Preaching Publishing Race Religious Freedom Roman Catholicism SBC Science Secularism Sex Education Sexual Revolution Singleness Social Media & Internet Spirituality Sports Technology Theology Tragedy Trends United States Womanhood