briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, March 19, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, March 19, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The End of Pro-Life Democrats: Dan Lipinski Defeated by Pro-Abortion Candidate in Democratic Primary

For the better part of the last four decades, the name of the Congressman in the third district in Illinois has been Lipinski. From 1982 to 2005 it was Bill Lipinski. From 2005 to the present, it was Dan Lipinski. But the Lipinski line came to an end in the third district of Illinois on Tuesday night, when Dan Lipinski lost the Democratic primary. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination in the third district is almost assuredly going to win in the election. And so, by every sign, Marie Newman is going to be the new congressperson for that district.

But what’s important to recognize here is that this does represent a massive milestone in American political history, and in particular, in the history of the Democratic party, because with the elimination of Congressman Dan Lipinski, the Democratic party becomes almost entirely pro-abortion.

And it’s also very important to note the Dan Lipinski lost the Democratic nomination primarily over this issue. There were other things to be sure. He had voted against Obamacare years ago, but the basic reality is that Marie Newman ran with the backing of figures such as representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. She was the standard bearer in the third district of the group known as Justice Democrats, and she was also endorsed by Emily’s List. That’s a very powerful interest group within the Democratic Party that backs only Democratic candidates who are avid supporters of abortion.

Now, the most immediate impact of this development is going to be that there will be a different member of Congress from the third district of Illinois. That also means, of course, that there will be a different composition to the next United States Congress. But more than anything else, it is a graphic illustration of the fact that both political parties in the United States are moving towards their inherent logic.

The logic of the two parties following two different ideologies just to consider on the issue of abortion alone now means that there are virtually no pro-abortion, or those who would sell themselves pro-choice, Republicans anywhere near Republican leadership or prominence. And by the same token, there are almost no pro-life Democrats left at the national level. There are activist groups on both sides seeking to make it so, and the issues have now become so well-defined in America’s political decision making, elections, and policies, that by the time you get to the issue of abortion, you can pretty much predict exactly where a candidate must be if that candidate is to be in sync with his or her own party.

Now, over the course of American political history, you’ll hear many people say, as I read just last night, that if you look at American electoral politics, abortion did not factor in a major way until 1980. Well, of course that’s true, but it’s also true because of an important historical development. That was the Roe v. Wade decision, by which the United States Supreme Court arrogated to itself the authority to legalize abortion on demand in all 50 states.

As we’ve often pointed out on The Briefing, the pro-abortion side was absolutely convinced that Supreme court victory would end the public debate in the United States over abortion. Of course, it turns out, in an historical perspective, it not only failed to do that, it actually became the catalyst—indeed, you could say the fuse—on the explosive issue of abortion that set off a national debate that rages until this day and will not end.

But you also have to go back and recognize that if you were looking at the issue of abortion in the 1970s, you would have had a divide in the Congress, but it would not have fallen entirely on partisan lines. As a matter of fact, at that point in the 1970s, there were many Republicans who would now be defined as pro-choice, if not pro-abortion, and there were many Democrats who were clearly pro-life. What made the difference?

Well, what made the difference was the period between 1973 and 1980. One of those pivotal developments was the election of Jimmy Carter as president in 1976. Jimmy Carter is often remembered as the born again candidate. It was his use of that term and his self-designation as an evangelical Christian that awakened many in American culture to the existence of evangelicalism as an organized religious movement in the United States.

But Jimmy Carter, having been governor of Georgia, was also, on many issues, a social liberal, and abortion was one of them. It was Jimmy Carter who said that he was personally pro-life, but did not believe in imposing his own convictions when it came to law, whether that law was in the state of Georgia or when he became president across the entire union. But that was a position that basically appeared to be perhaps politically tenable in the 1970s, but not for long after that.

When Jimmy Carter ran for reelection in 1980 and was opposed by the Republican nominee, the former California governor, Ronald Reagan, it was Reagan who ran as the very first Republican standard bearer to make a pro-life position a central part of his manifesto, of his creed, and of his platform. It was Ronald Reagan who had actually written a book defending the sanctity of human life.

It was Ronald Reagan who had, during the 1970s, as governor of California, signed one of the most liberal abortion laws in American history, but he later regretted having done that and he also felt guilty for having signed that legislation. By the time he ran for president, he had clearly come to a pro-life position, and not only that, that pro-life position began to define what would be an acceptably conservative political philosophy. And beyond that, what would be required for anyone who would follow Ronald Reagan as the standard bearer for the Republican party.

It is also interesting to note that over the course of the last several election cycles, no Republican could gain the Republican nomination without coming to a pro-life position and doing so very clearly. By the time you look at the same developments in the Democratic party, the opposite logic was beginning to take hold.

That became very clear in 1992 with the election of William Jefferson Clinton, Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas, as the new president of the United States. In 1992, Bill Clinton held to a position that was at least somewhat like the position of Jimmy Carter, but not exactly the position of Jimmy Carter. It was not that Bill Clinton said that abortion was morally wrong, but it was that he said that it should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

Now, there’s a judgment in that, of course. The thing we need to note now is that the only word the Democratic party will agree with, even if it were in conversation with its own candidate in 1992, is “legal.” “Safe” and “rare” have disappeared. Rare, of course, implies that it should be rare. He actually made that point. It was echoed later by Hillary Clinton, as she was running for president in 2008. She then lost that nomination to Barack Obama. When she ran for the nomination again in 2016, that language had completely disappeared. A pro-abortion position was the absolute orthodoxy of the Democratic party. So much so that in a presidential debate against President Trump, Hillary Clinton made clear that she would nominate only candidates who agreed in advance to uphold the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

So, “rare” in “safe, legal, and rare” had disappeared from the Democratic vocabulary but so has “safe.” The greatest evidence for that is the fact that the Democrats will go to war with any state restriction that is actually enacted in order to protect a woman’s health in the context of an abortion.

That’s exactly, for example, what you have in this case before the Supreme Court from the state of Louisiana. The state of Louisiana passed legislation that requires the doctors who are performing abortions to have admitting privileges in a hospital within 30 miles. You would think that would be a common sense issue, if indeed, you really cared about safe. But long ago the Democratic party decided to sacrifice safe and rare in order to insist upon legal.

One of the things we need to note here, from a Christian worldview perspective, operating on the basis of the Scriptures, is that, when we affirm the sanctity of human life, it is virtually impossible, then, to negotiate what might be considered a moderate or a mediating or a middle position. We’re told over and over again by the pollsters and the survey takers and the researchers that Americans do not hold what they will often define as an extreme position on abortion. They instead are somewhere in the middle, but what exactly would that mean?

It just demonstrates the lack of consistent thinking on the part of so many Americans who don’t think about the issue of abortion, perhaps, until they are answering a pollster’s question. But once you do begin to think about it, or you have to frame legislation about abortion, or you have to deal with abortion as a matter of a case coming before a court, the reality is, you have to deal with real words. You have to deal with real sentences. You have to deal with genuine arguments and false arguments begin to show themselves very, very quickly.

Oddly enough, that point was made in her own way by Linda Greenhouse, contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times for many decades, and I must add here, controversially so, because, as her own memoir indicated she was actually an activist on behalf of abortion, even as she was covering cases that came before the Supreme Court on issues of her own personal concern including abortion.

The most important thing, however, to recognize in her recent article in the New York Times is the headline “The Supreme Court’s Fictional Middle Ground On Abortion.” The subhead on the article, “There is no such thing.” And I can register that, at this point, is the only moment in which I found myself in agreement with Linda Greenhouse. There is no middle ground on abortion. It’s fictional. There is no such thing.

But the catalyst for our consideration of this issue today was the primary defeat of Dan Lipinski for the congressional seat in the third district of Illinois, and the fact that before the primary vote was held, those who were seeking to unseat him used the issue of abortion as the evidence of why he should no longer be considered a Democrat.

You had people saying that the Democratic party must be large enough to include some pro-life office holders, but evidently, not so large, evidently not so accommodating. But the defeat of Lipinski also demonstrated the power of the left wing insurgency known as the Justice Democrats, and especially the woman in Congress who bears their flag, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Part II

Will Bernie Sanders Withdraw from the Presidential Race? The Democratic Obsession of Getting Bernie Sanders in the Joe Biden Camp

What is then interesting, next, is to understand that, in the presidential primaries that were held on Tuesday, that argument did not win amongst Democrats voting for a presidential nominee. Instead, it was former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, who was the big clear winner on Tuesday night in the Democratic primaries in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois.

All three of those states are very important, but looking at Florida and Illinois, the numbers are almost staggering. Biden won 59.1% in Illinois, Sanders only 36%. It was even more graphic when you looked at Florida, where Biden won 61.9% Sanders only 22.8%. What you’re looking at there is the fact that Democrats voting in the Democratic primaries in very illustrative states, in the case of Florida and Illinois, it’s hard to come up with two states more important as barometers for the Democrats, and in both of those states, voters said they had basically had enough of the insurgency of Bernie Sanders.

Again, how quickly does politics turn? Just a matter of a few weeks ago, it was Bernie Sanders who was being declared as the inevitable 2020 Democratic nominee. But here’s where the voters eventually have their say, and voters begin to follow a certain logic. The logic by which they voted on Tuesday night may have a great deal to do with Bernie Sanders’ political extremism, the fact that he identifies publicly as a democratic socialist. But it may also have to do with something else in the context of the national emergency of COVID-19, the Coronavirus.

When you’re looking at the one who will hold the office of President of the United States, voters intuitively, whether they consciously register the fact or not, are making a decision as to whether or not they trust individual A or B or C with being the nation’s chief executive. Now, no doubt, at some point that will play into the 2020 General Election for president, but as you’re thinking about the Democratic nominating process, just think about how the world has changed over the course of just the last two to three weeks. Think about how perceptions of leadership have changed.

Now, that’s not to say that American voters will have a great deal of confidence in Joe Biden. That’s, at this point, rather untested. The important thing to recognize is that there’s a lot of evidence that American voters, especially those who are voting in the Democratic primaries, don’t have a great deal of confidence in someone like Bernie Sanders sitting in the Oval Office.

Even before these three primaries, there was huge political pressure on Bernie Sanders to bow out of the Democratic race. What difference would that make? Well, it’s basically, at this point, not a mathematical difference and delegate count that matters. It’s hard to imagine that Joe Biden will not have a first ballot victory, if and when there is a Democratic convention in the summer. But it is a matter of political momentum and it’s also a matter of fundraising. It’s beyond that, party concerns that Bernie Sanders is beating up on Joe Biden in a way that will actually weaken Joe Biden in the general election. They want Bernie Sanders now to indicate support for Joe Biden, and to help to build Democratic cohesiveness and unity going into the general election season. The big question is, will Bernie Sanders withdraw? The Bernie Sanders we saw in the debate on Sunday night doesn’t appear to be backing up at all.

Now, as many have noted, there appears to be an absence of the personal animosity that had existed in 2016 between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. But that’s not to say that Bernie Sanders does not have something like a monomaniacal focus upon his own issues, and that he is going to be willing to give up pressure on those issues in order to build Democratic unity.

Now, in the beginning of the Democratic race in 2020, it was very interesting that Bernie Sanders did make a pledge—he also did this, by the way, signing an electoral pledge in his own state of Vermont—that he would support the Democratic nominee and the goals of the Democratic party. But even to this date, Bernie Sanders is actually not a Democrat. And during the course of the primary campaign, his criticisms of the Democratic Party indicated that he saw the party establishment and its general structure, and its recent officeholders and nominees, as the problem rather than as the solution. And furthermore, adding ammunition to the logic of Bernie Sanders’ most fervent supporters, just look at the evidence that the longer Bernie Sanders has stayed in the primary, the further he has pulled Joe Biden to the left.

Interestingly, that point is not being made only by conservatives, but by liberals themselves. Liberal columnist, Bill Press, writing for The Hill just a few days ago wrote this: “They’ll never admit it, but Biden and Sanders actually agree on far more than they disagree. Both champion universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on the wealthy, wiping out student debt, making college affordable, if not free, and leading the fight against climate change. With only slight variations on a theme, every single Democratic candidate in 2020, left or center, ran on the Bernie Sanders platform.” He goes on to say, “Whatever they choose, revolution or evolution, they’re both paths to the same progressive goals. And,” says Press, “those goals were first set by Sanders in 2016.” Press concludes, “That’s why I argue that Sanders has already won the Democratic Primary.

Why would Bernie Sanders get out? Well, he would get out of the race presumably because he wants to have some continued influence in the Democratic Party. Why would he stay in? It turns out to be the same answer, because he wants a continued influence in the Democratic Party. He and he alone will decide whether he will have greater influence inside or outside of the primary race. Thus far, he’s definitely playing inside rather than outside. All that could change, however, in almost a political instant.

One of the other things we need to note is that the Joe Biden campaign is very worried about the young voters who were activated by Bernie Sanders turning out to vote for Joe Biden. There’s a lot of evidence, even coming from within the Sanders movement, that Sanders was unable to turn out those young voters who were supposedly so enthusiastic and so leftward. They are, of course, leftward, but they are not, at this point, active voters in so many cases. And if they didn’t turn out for Bernie Sanders, the huge question that is haunting the Biden campaign is whether they would turn out to an even lesser extent for Joe Biden. How exactly to get Bernie Sanders on the Joe Biden team thus becomes something of an obsession.

Part III

Coronavirus Threatens the European Union: The Endurance of the Nation-State Through Times of Crisis

We’ll continue to watch those developments, but of course we are all looking intently at the coronavirus crisis, trying to understand exactly what is going on, what we should think, what we should do. One of the things we need to recognize is that under the stress of this particular challenge, we are watching some experiments begin to unravel, and one of them unraveling before our eyes is the modern secular vision of a European identity. Headlines, for instance, in the Washington Post, “Europe is Closing Borders Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: They May Be Hard To Reopen.” The New York Times: “Europe Agrees to Hunker Down and Shut Doors to Almost All Visitors.”

Why is that such a big issue? In the aftermath of the two World Wars of the 20th century, there were those who began to believe that the nation state had served its usefulness, and needed to be replaced, especially in Europe, with a pan-European national identity. The prophets and visionaries, as they styled themselves, of this new secular European experiment would replace national identity with a European identity, so that the citizens of Europe would see themselves first as European, and only secondarily, if even that, citizens of France or Switzerland or Luxembourg, or you could go down the list.

That European project began with an economic union known as the European Economic Community or EEC. It was later transformed into the European Union. A necessary part of that new vision of Europe was the virtual elimination of borders between nations as meaningful boundaries. You can’t really identify as European first of all, if you have to show a passport as you pass from Poland into Germany, from Germany into France and, well, you can basically look at a map and go from there.

This vision produced in 1985 the so-called Schengen Agreement; it went into effect a decade later in 1995. And the Schengen Agreement basically unified Europe without borders. You no longer had to have inspections of trucks. You could just drive from Germany into Poland, or from France into Germany, just as if you’re driving from Illinois into Ohio or Florida into Georgia. That was the vision, and of course, it was fueled by the effort to try to declare that Europe would become something like a United States of Europe, even as the 50 States are the United States of America.

The problem is, of course, that there is history, there are civilizational patterns, and there is the endurance of nationalism. The fact is that, given the history of the United States and the existence of the United States as a federal union from the beginning, the reality is that most Americans, the vast majority of Americans, think of themselves as Americans first. They don’t think of themselves so much as citizens of a state, rather as residents of a state.

That’s not the case in Europe, and even though the Schengen Agreement has been in place since 1995, it has been under severe strain, brought about, first of all, most urgently, by migration and the refugee crisis, but also brought about by the continuation of nationalism, and a Christian worldview understanding helps us to see that there’s a reason why national identity continues, especially when it’s connected to culture and language and moral values.

It’s also connected to history. The reality is that human beings can accommodate only so large a political identity. If it gets beyond the unit of a nation, it turns out that loyalty begins to fade fast, and agreements do not last long, and that boundaries once denied, begin to appear once again.

That’s why, for example, that headline in the Washington Post yesterday was, “Europe Is Closing Borders Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: They May Be Hard to Reopen.” But in this case, the coronavirus is the catalyst, it’s the pressure under which the nation is re-emerging as the most meaningful unit.

It turns out that Poland matters to the Polish people, that Germans are very loyal to Germany, and that, of course, the French people think that France is not just a region, it’s a nation. Now, there are dangers to the existence of the nation, but the reality is, history has proven that the development of the nation state is one of the most fortuitous developments in all of human history.

One of the lessons the secular world seems never to understand is that humanity doesn’t rally as humanity. It’s just too large a conception. It’s too large to be meaningful in organizing human endeavors. It’s too large to be meaningful as an economic unit. It’s too large to be meaningful as a network of loyalties, and yes, that network of loyalties matters. Don’t we know it now?

And so, we are now relearning one of the most urgent lessons of human history. In a time of crisis, what is most underlined and clear is that we have to lean into the structures that build human loyalty and care for one another, and lean away from any structure or pattern of thought that will lead human beings to be less loyalty to each other and less caring. That’s a lesson really important for us to note wherever we see it.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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