briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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

It’s Wednesday, April the 15th, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Joe Biden Picks Up Bernie Sanders’s Endorsement: Why the “Moderate” Democratic Candidate Is Running Far to the Left as the Presumptive Nominee

It is April the 15th, but it is not, in the United States, April the 15th as every other April the 15th. There’s been an extension for most taxpayers in filing their returns and making their payments. That of course would require some explanation, wouldn’t it? And whatever that explanation would be, it would have to be something massive and of course, the massive reality is the pandemic, COVID-19, the coronavirus crisis—all of this just reminding us that even as we say rightly that today is Wednesday, April the 15th of 2020, it is simply a profound reality that the world has changed around us even on tax day.

But it’s also clear that April the 15th is not what it would generally be in a presidential election cycle. This would be during the time in which primaries would be continuing and party by party in any kind of general election cycle, it would be likely that at this point there will be a front runner and of course, on the Republican side, President Donald Trump is now uncontested for the Republican presidential nomination. And at this point, Joe Biden, the former Vice President of the United States is also uncontested, but this is also now something that has to be placed in the context of the coronavirus, which goes a long way towards explaining developments on the Democratic side this week, most importantly, two, you might argue the two most important endorsements for the former Vice President from leading Democrats. Who would they be? Well, on Monday it was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, yesterday it was Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States. There are huge stories behind both, but first we turn to the endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden by Senator Bernie Sanders.

The orchestrated announcement by Sanders on Monday actually came in a clearly coordinated video effort between Biden and Sanders. It also came as a surprise to the entire political class in its timing and it came as a particular surprise to most of the supporters of Bernie Sanders. Just days before, Sanders had announced that he would be effectively suspending his campaign, but he also said that his name would appear on the ballot in future primaries where he was already on the ballot. He had indicated that he would inevitably support Joe Biden, but he did not endorse him, instead referring to him in that context as a decent fellow. The announcement from Sanders days ago, that he would be suspending his campaign, came as a rather radical disappointment to his fervent supporters who after all, had indicated that they were deeply committed to Bernie Sanders more than they were committed to the Democratic party or to the eventual Democratic nominee, if that nominee were someone other than Bernie Sanders.

Of course, the tide turned in the Democratic race with the South Carolina primary now just weeks ago, and then super Tuesday and development subsequently, even in the Wisconsin primary that was held last week with results announced just Monday, again, not a coincidence. But as you’re looking at the endorsement that Bernie Sanders gave of Joe Biden, the interesting thing is that it actually came so quickly after Sanders’s withdrawal from the race. Actually, it wasn’t even specifically a withdrawal. It was a suspension. Why would the situation change so much in just a few days that would lead Bernie Sanders of all people now to take the lead in endorsing Biden with the clear coordination of the Biden campaign? The video was not only orchestrated, it was something of a routine between Biden and Sanders. It had a certain entertainment quality to it as well as political effect.

We asked the question, why the timing? The answer is, Joe Biden, who is now virtually assured of being the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee is in something of a press vacuum. The coronavirus crisis, the stay at home orders have disrupted any kind of normalcy for this presidential election cycle. Joe Biden, who would right now be on the campaign trail getting lots of attention, holding press conferences, holding rallies, marshaling supporters is instead in a rather awkward improvised television studio in his Delaware home and Joe Biden is also in the context of a national emergency at a political disadvantage because he holds no office. He has no official responsibilities. He cannot now speak in any official capacity. Thus he tends to appear in a blue blazer and a button down shirt speaking to a camera. It looks like a home video because it basically is a home video.

It is also clear that the Democratic establishment is quite concerned about this and naturally so, they’re trying to win the White House after all, and they’re going to have a very hard time finding a way to get Joe Biden in the nation’s consciousness when most Americans are more concerned about more immediate pressing, familial or financial needs, not so much about a presidential election. That dynamic explains why in two days, just within 24 hours, there would be these two powerful endorsements on the Democratic side coming from Senator Sanders, also coming from President Obama, But let’s go further into the endorsement by Bernie Sanders.

The key dynamic to understand here is that Bernie Sanders has dragged the Democratic party and it’s inevitable nominee Joe Biden, far to the left. That was reflected in the banter between Sanders and Biden in their orchestrated statement. There was a pretense of Biden saying, “You know we don’t agree on everything,” and Sanders saying, “You know we don’t agree on everything,” but instead trying to say to the Democratic party and to likely Democratic voters including, you might presume some swing voters as they are defined as well, “Joe Biden is a good guy and even though he’s not going to run on a platform quite as liberal as Bernie, well Bernie is excited about him.” The problem is Bernie didn’t even look very excited about him. The scale of the challenge that Biden and the Democratic party faces when considering the supporters of Bernie Sanders, it takes us back to 2016 to understand it. Just keep in mind that the Democratic nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, was unable to garner adequate support from very excited Bernie Sanders followers. She also spectacularly failed to get any kind of energetic support from Senator Sanders himself and many people on the Democratic side looking at that race will say that she lost the race, at least in part because of the alienation of, or the lack of excitement among Bernie Sanders supporters by the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Joe Biden has worked over hard to make certain that that would not happen. He did not try to push Bernie Sanders out of the race with public pressure. Instead, he allowed the Democratic establishment to do that. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have had something of a warm friendship we are told from their very brief number of years in the Senate together, and it is at least clear that Bernie Sanders does not dislike Joe Biden in the same way that Bernie Sanders clearly did dislike Hillary Clinton. But then Hillary Clinton in a multi-part documentary about herself on Hulu, broadcast just weeks ago, leveled one at Bernie Sanders saying of Senator Sanders and his colleagues in the Senate, “Nobody likes him.” Bernie Sanders, you might remember said in response, at least his wife likes him. In any event, the animosity between Clinton and Sanders was real. The lack of that animosity between Sanders and Biden is also real.

But there is a lack of excitement not only on the part of Senator Sanders, evident in that video endorsement, but more critically amongst his followers. Evidence of that came just hours after Senator Sanders made his endorsement when Senator Sanders’s former press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, said, “With utmost respect for Bernie Sanders, who is an incredible human being and a genuine inspiration, I don’t endorse Joe Biden.” She said, “I supported Bernie Sanders because he backed ideas like Medicare for all, canceling ALL student debt and a wealth tax. Biden supports none of these.”

The context behind all of this is made clear by reporter Sydney Ember and Katie Glueck in a front page article in the New York Times on Tuesday in which they wrote, “In a surprise joint appearance over live streamed video, the two men,” that means Sanders and Biden, “revealed a rapprochement forged amid extraordinary circumstances just five days after Mr. Sanders withdrew, a sign of how profoundly the coronavirus pandemic has changed the dynamics of the race.” The reporters continued, “The uncertainty caused by the virus, the vast damage to the American economy, and the almost feverish desire to deprive Mr. Trump of a second term prompted an earlier than expected alliance between two ideological rivals aimed at bringing together disparate factions of the party.”

Senator Sanders during the video said, “We need you in the White House,” to Biden, and he went on to say, “I will do all that I can to see that that happens.” In an interesting response, the former Vice President said, “I’m going to need you, not just to win the campaign but to govern.” That’s an absolutely crucial statement. It must not pass our notice. What the former Vice President was saying here to Bernie Sanders, more importantly to Bernie Sanders’s supporters, is that the support of Bernie Sanders and the votes of his supporters will make a material difference, not only in what Biden hopes will be an electoral victory, but in a Biden administration if indeed Biden is given the opportunity to establish an administration if he wins the election.

Later in the article, the New York Times reporter said, “The challenge now for Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders is to create an agenda that hues to Mr. Biden’s relatively moderate policy views and draws in progressives, but also seems big enough to match the extraordinary moment in the country.” Now, any adroit political observer would have to respond to that with something like, “good luck with that,” because what you have here are basically incommensurate goals. The goal of trying to maintain some kind of at least claimed moderation in policy while exciting people who are immoderate in the extreme and then trying to have ideas that are big enough to captivate the country.

But the biggest issue for us to consider in worldview analysis is that when you are looking at Joe Biden, moderate is only a somewhat accurate description of his policies if you compare Joe Biden to someone like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the increasingly dominant left wing of the Democratic party. In fact, Joe Biden in 2020 is not only running far to the left of someone like Hillary Clinton in 2016, he’s running far to the left of Barack Obama and Joe Biden in 2012 and 2008, and he’s running incredibly far to the left of the Joe Biden who was in the United States Senate for decades.

In worldview analysis, one thing to keep in mind is that the word “moderate” is actually a contextually determined term. That is to say moderate as compared to what? Moderate as compared to whom? In this case, the word “moderate,” if you’re placing it in the larger American political spectrum, isn’t all that accurate. It’s moderate as compared to Bernie Sanders. That’s a very different definition. It’s also very interesting in worldview analysis to see that most of the explicit kickback to the idea of Bernie Sanders endorsing Joe Biden is coming from the Sanders camp. It’s not coming from the Biden camp. The Biden camp understands the need. The Sanders camp sees it as a sellout. As the New York Times reporters tell us, “Already progressive groups and activists were expressing skepticism about how far Mr. Biden would go to incorporate Mr. Sanders’s followers.”

Evan Weber, political director of what’s known as the Sunrise Movement, that’s an activist movement of the left, more allied with someone like Bernie Sanders, he said, “Winning over Senator Sanders is one thing, but Joe Biden shouldn’t think that work is over.” He went on to say, “There is still work to do to win over progressive leaders and young people.” There’s a whole lot embedded in that, but the thing to remember is this: The establishment in the Democratic party had a sheer panic in believing that Bernie Sanders would actually gain the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. They saw that as a disaster, believing rightly I think, that Bernie Sanders would lose in the election, and rightly, I think, that he would be an enormous drag on the Democratic ticket in all races that are considered to be down-ballot, that is races for Congress, races for the House, for the Senate, for gubernatorial seats, and of course, all the way down to local elections. Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket would’ve spelled disaster for Democrats at any point on the ticket.

But at the same time, the Democratic establishment is increasingly committed to the ideas of Bernie Sanders. And so the ideal candidate they would look for is a candidate who doesn’t sound like Bernie Sanders, but would actually lead like Bernie Sanders. And that’s actually what we are looking at with the effort to try to repackage Joe Biden as the 2020 Democratic nominee. He’s trying not to be scary to mainstream voters, but he’s trying to look absolutely cool and radical to Bernie Sanders supporters and most importantly to a very motivated liberal young adult base.

Part II

Why Did Barack Obama Wait So Long to Endorse His Former Vice President? And Why Would He Be a Different Candidate in 2020 Than He Was in 2008 or 2012?

But as we’re thinking in worldview analysis, the endorsement of Bernie Sanders is less important and less interesting than the endorsement of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, that came yesterday, again, a surprise in its timing.

It had been considered likely in recent weeks that President Obama would release an endorsement statement for the man who is after all his former vice president. Then just days ago, it was indicated by many observers that that endorsement would likely be moved up. But moving it up to the day after the Sanders endorsement? In any kind of normal situation, a campaign would space those announcements out to get maximum press attention. This tells us something about the desperation.

But, of course, the national media is not pointing to the most interesting question about the endorsement of Biden by Obama. The most interesting question is why did he wait until after Biden is already the assured Democratic nominee? After all, the man was his vice president. Back in 2008 he chose him as his vice president to join him on the ticket, but he did not endorse Joe Biden during the entire primary season. That endorsement came just yesterday. What does that tell you? It tells us all that former President Obama was trying to be very careful to wait to see if Joe Biden was going to follow the pattern he had had in all other efforts to win the Democratic nomination when he failed rather spectacularly. President Obama, here’s the point, was not willing to attach his political destiny to his former vice president until Biden became inevitable as the front runner and as the nominee.

That inevitability has arrived, but again, it is a sign of weakness that the campaign orchestrated the endorsement by President Obama just a day after the endorsement of Bernie Sanders. But all of that is far less significant than the words used by the former President in his endorsement of his former vice president. The words are surprising, indeed, looked at closely, they’re shocking. It’s not shocking that Obama would say nice things about Biden such as, “Choosing Joe to be my vice president was on the best decisions I made and he became a close friend and I believe Joe has all the qualities we need in a president right now. He’s someone whose own life has taught him how to persevere, how to bounce back when you’ve been knocked down.” That’s exactly what you would expect in this kind of statement from a former president about his former vice president.

But what gets really interesting is when you get later in the former president’s endorsement, when he says this, “You know, I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency, but,” said President Obama, “if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different. There’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future.” Then said Obama, “Bernie understands that and Joe understands that.” The former President then said, “This is one of the reasons that Joe already has what is the most progressive platform of any major party nominee in history.” That’s astounding. It’s astounding because, in effect, President Obama is apologizing in a very clear way here for the tepidness measured over against 2020 of his own platform and his own administration between January of 2009 and January of 2017.

I say those dates in particular to remind us that we’re not yet talking about even four years ago. That tells you how fast the world has changed, how fast in particular it has changed in the context of the Democratic party. President Obama’s ideas would look absolutely retrograde. They would look like black and white television as measured by the demands of the political party known as the Democrats today.

The thing to remember here is that President Obama wasn’t particularly speaking to the coronavirus issue, but rather to the political context that was already reflected in the Democratic primary when he said, “I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008.” Now just consider the fact that when Barack Obama was running in 2008, he was already running as the most liberal political candidate heading any major party ticket in modern America. No question about it. But this statement from President Obama yesterday indicates that he knows that it is he who is now out of step with the party that he led just a matter of a few years ago as president.

Later in Obama’s statement he said, “So we need to do more than just tinker around the edges with tax credits or underfunded programs. We have to go further to give everybody a great education, a lasting career, and a stable retirement.” Speaking by the way about medical care, he went on to say, “We have to protect the gains we made with the Affordable Care Act.” Remember, that was known popularly as Obamacare at the time, first used as a term of derision, but President Obama himself began to use the term speaking of the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare, but the former President said, now, “It’s also time to go further. We should make plans affordable for everyone, provide everyone with a public option, expand Medicare, and finish the job so that healthcare isn’t just a right but a reality for everybody.”

In that paragraph, what is most interesting is that even though he doesn’t use the same language as Bernie Sanders, and even though he speaks about a public option rather than a public mandate, the reality is that the public option, even in the plan of Joe Biden is a temporary measure. It’s a temporary transition to a fully socialized national health system.

I’ll admit, I find all of this absolutely fascinating because as you look at politics over the last several general election cycles, you would have seen nothing like this coming unless perhaps back in 2016 with the loss of Hillary Clinton, you began to look in the Democratic party and recognize that Hillary Clinton’s position, and remember how liberal she was running to the left of Obama in 2016, she lost in the views of her own party because she was not far enough left.

Joe Biden knows that he cannot win crucial swing states if he identifies with Bernie Sanders, but he also can’t win unless he identifies with Bernie Sanders’s ideas and supporters. So he’s trying to find a way to pull this off.

Part III

A Desperate Plea to Deflated Revolutionaries: The New York Times Urges Young Voters to Support Joe Biden, “The Last Man Standing”

And next, it’s really interesting to consider the assist that the editorial board of the New York Times tried to give the former vice president. In an editorial from the Editorial Board entitled, “Hey Kids: Get Out There and Vote!” the editors write, “With Joe Biden, the last man standing in the Democratic primary race president, there’s increasingly anxious discussion within the party about how, or even if, the former vice president can win over disappointed progressives. Of particular concern,” said the editors, “are the younger voters whose energy and idealism fueled the campaign of Bernie Sanders.”

Now, before we look further at the argument the editors are making to those young Bernie Sanders supporters, just understand that the New York Times evidently feels that it’s the newspaper to address those young Bernie Sanders supporters. What’s the agenda there? Well, the editors aren’t only concerned about the election of 2020, make no mistake they’re concerned about it. They’re even more concerned about the future of the New York Times and whether or not those young Bernie Sanders supporters are going to read a newspaper like the New York Times. They’re making a signal of their own to those young Democrats.

What’s also astounding in the lead to this editorial is just how tepid it is about the former Vice President. They describe Joe Biden not as the exciting and dominant Democratic candidate who’s now going to be the nominee. Rather they describe him in the first words of this editorial, merely as, “The last man standing in the Democratic primary race for president.” With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Speaking of the necessity of the Democratic nominee to draw those younger, very progressive voters as they described themselves, the paper says, “This is a daunting challenge. Mr. Biden is a 77-year-old moderate who has spent his entire adult life in politics and in many ways embodies The Establishment. So far,” they say, “he’s been running on a backward looking platform of restoration, not exactly a message to electrify the youth vote.”

Now again, what’s being signaled here? The editors are saying to those younger voters, “Hey, we’re with you. We’re not satisfied with Joe Biden’s positions.” They describe the very platform that this paper endorsed less than four years ago as a backward looking platform of restoration. No more restoration says the Editorial Board of the New York Times, we’re with those young Bernie supporters. We want revolution. We demand it. The question is, can Joe Biden bring it? “Well, it’s not likely, but he’s the last man we’ve got anyway. He’s the last man standing, so we’re going to have to go with him. Let’s try to look excited.”

The Editorial Board went on to acknowledge, “Mr. Sanders struck many young people as their last best hope.” They went on to say, “And made clear that he saw them as his.” Again, they’re talking about the challenge now faced by Joe Biden, but then they end their article chastising younger voters for, well not voting. If they had voted in the numbers Bernie Sanders was counting on, Bernie Sanders would be right now the last man standing, but they didn’t come out and vote for him as he had hoped. And so Joe Biden is the last man standing. So what’s the final point made by the New York Times Editorial Board? It’s a word to young voters that bucking all recent trends in electoral politics, they actually must come out and vote in a way the younger people have not previously come out to vote and they’re going to have to vote for Joe Biden. Otherwise, President Donald Trump is going to win a second term in office, which is what the New York Times fears more than anything else.

But the last words of the editorial are addressed to younger voters saying, “Once they establish themselves as a reliable force, they won’t again have to beg and bargain with politicians to take them seriously.” Okay, final question as The Briefing comes to a close today, what’s the problem with this argument? The problem with the argument is this, younger voters don’t stay younger voters. The younger voters who came out to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 aren’t so young anymore. The ones that came out in 2012, they’re not so young anymore either. Young is a snapshot of chronology when it comes to younger voters in particular, they’re voters between the ages of say 18 and 27, 28, 29. But the reality is nobody stays in that period of life more than about a decade.

And though there are exceptions to the rule, the reality is that most of those say 18 to 20 something year old Bernie Sanders supporters not only are going to have to face the decision as to whether they’re going to come out and vote for Joe Biden. The previous question is would they even be reading the editorial page of the New York Times?

Altogether just a couple of days into the week, this has been one of the biggest political wakes in recent American history. But the big test is not what this week means in April, but what all this added up means in November.

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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