briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, August 6, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, August 6, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Politics Is Always a Battle of Ideas, and Especially So in 2020

Politics is, if nothing else, a contest of ideas. It always is if it’s meaningful and important. And as we’re looking to the election cycle of 2020, it’s all really urgent, it’s all really important, and there are some big trends we need to watch in this battle of ideas. We also need to note that this clash of ideas that eventually becomes a battle of worldviews isn’t just between the two parties, between the Republicans and the Democrats. At the national level, it’s not just liberal versus conservative. It is that, but even within the two parties, there’s an ongoing battle of ideas. And right now the most interesting of those battles is clearly amongst the Democrats on the left of the American political spectrum.

Primaries were held in several states this week, and one of them was the state of Missouri. The headline that came out of the St. Louis area is this, “Longtime Representative William Lacy Clay loses Democratic Primary in Missouri.” Here’s the story. Once again, there has been a major incumbent Democrat, in this case, a man who with his father held this seat in the St. Louis area for 51 years. That is, that most of the people voting in this election have never known any member of Congress for this district other than someone named William Lacy Clay, either senior or junior. But William Lacy Clay, an African American veteran in the House of Representatives was primaried–there’s the new noun we use. A challenger from the same party within the primary, by a very progressive candidate. That’s how the candidate is labeled in the press. And this means someone radically to the left in what’s been considered the mainstream in the liberal Democratic party. In this case, the candidate was Cori Bush. She had run against Clay just two years ago, didn’t come very close. But with enormous activist energy, she overcame the power of incumbency, and on Tuesday night defeated Representative Clay in order now to face a perfunctory Republican opponent in the election coming in November. It’s a very safe democratic seat.

Now, sometimes within the two parties, as you’re looking at this kind of primary challenge, you can look at it being occasioned by demographics, and amongst the demographic issues generational change. You have a pattern of longstanding, of older incumbents being ousted by younger insurgents. But in this case, it’s not just demographics. And furthermore, in this case, both the incumbent and the challenger are African Americans. Both of them are Democrats, both of them are liberal, but one is far more liberal than the other. As David Weigel of the Washington Post summarize the story, “Rep. William Lacy Clay lost the Democratic primary in Missouri on Tuesday night, falling to Cori Bush, an activist who entered politics after the Ferguson protests in 2014 and tapped into the recent energy of the Black Lives Matter movement to upset the 10-term congressman.”

In declaring victory, Cori Bush said, “We’ve been called radicals, terrorists. We’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement, but now we are a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational, multi-faith mass movement.” The interesting thing in her comment is that she says she and her movement have been called radicals and terrorists and an impossible fringe movement. But the thing to note is those statements weren’t really made by Republicans. They were made by mainstream establishment Democrats just a few years ago, but that’s one of the big stories we’re going to be tracking today. We’re going to be looking at political and moral shifts in the United States, and in particularly, very interestingly right now, in the base and the larger movement of the Democratic party. But even as you’re thinking about Cori Bush defeating William Lacy Clay, that’s not the first story. It’s not the first headline like this. As a matter of fact, at least five major Democratic incumbents have lost to insurgent progressives to their left just in this current election cycle.

David Weigel writing another article for the Washington Post about this story and his larger implications points out that Cori Bush was actually “the first recruit announced by Justice Democrats, an organization built by veterans” of Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. The reporter goes on to tell us, “Each candidate embraced the key planks of Sanders’s platform — Medicare-for-all, criminal justice and immigration reform, as well as opposition to corporate PAC money. Each was also a serious underdog.”

But just several weeks earlier, the big headline had been this in a story written by Christal Hayes of USA Today, “Powerful House chair Eliot Engel defeated by progressive newcomer Jamaal Bowman in stunning upset.” In this case, the House seat was in the New York City area, and we’re talking about a Congressman who had a much higher profile and more political influence than Congressman Clay there in Missouri. Eliot Engel was a powerhouse in the leadership of the Democratic party. He was indeed the chairman, or at this point, even is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That’s going to come to an end with his term now comes to an end because he was defeated by Jamaal Bowman. Something else to note is that Eliot Engel held that seat for about three decades, but no more. He was primaried from the left, and in this case, following the example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also now of course, a Congressperson from New York. Christal Hayes summarized this development by writing, “Engel’s defeat at the hands of a progressive candidate, who is also a person of color, comes at a moment when racial justice is at the forefront of the national conversation. It also comes as progressives were looking for a win after the disappointment of Senator Bernie Sanders ending his bid for president earlier this year.”

Now, there’s another little embedded clue that tells us something about what’s going on in the larger pattern. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the influence of Bernie Sanders. It was the Justice Democrats inspired by Bernie Sanders who endorsed Cori Bush. You have people such as Jamaal Bowman who defeated Eliot Engel in Democratic primary, claiming inspiration also from Bernie Sanders and signing on basically to Sanders’s platform. Then you have the announcement that came in recent weeks that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders had worked together on a new party manifesto, a new shared statement. The background of that development is that Joe Biden and his campaign believe they can’t win without the support and perhaps even the eager support of the voters for Bernie Sanders, who were frustrated in 2016 and again, in 2020. And thus Bernie Sanders has an outsize influence right now on Joe Biden on the continued direction of the Democratic party on the 2020 Democratic platform, even on candidates who are considered acceptable or not acceptable.

Joe Biden, who after all served two full terms as vice president of the United States is now intellectually subservient in most ways to Bernie Sanders. And here’s the further irony. Bernie Sanders is not now, nor was he in 2016, nor has he been since he’s been in the Senate, a member of the Democratic party. One of the great ironies of this age is that perhaps the most influential figure in the Democratic party, at least intellectually and in terms of policy is a Democratic socialist, who isn’t actually a member of the party. We’re going to be looking further in today’s edition of The Briefing at what that means. But before leaving the primaries, I need to mention the fact that another important primary was held for the Senate race, and in this side, the great question was on the Republican side in the state of Kansas. But by Tuesday night, it was clear that representative, that is Congressman Roger Marshall had won the Republican Senate nomination in Kansas and the individual he defeated was the former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Now, the GOP leadership was quite concerned that Kris Kobach would be far too divisive and would put the Senate seat at risk. Interesting thing about this particular Senate seat, for over 100 years, it has been held by a Republican, and Republicans very much need a Republican candidate to keep that seat in the 2020 election in order for the party to have any real hope of holding onto its majority in the Senate. So the Republican establishment won in this case. Representative Marshall will be the Republican candidate and not Kris Kobach. But there’s another very interesting development here that intelligent Christians need to note. As we try to understand political developments around us, a part of the story of the 2020 Republican Senate primary in Kansas is the amount of money spent by Democratically aligned activist groups against Republican candidates. But here’s the game. They were actually negative ads about the candidates that they feared might actually prevail in the general election. They were trying to sabotage the Republican race. Now that’s not a simply Democratic issue. That’s really a bipartisan pattern these days. It tells us two things we need to keep in mind.

Number one, the most powerful political advertisements are negative advertisements. Americans are always saying they’re tired of negative advertising when it comes to politics, but it is incredibly clear that it is the negative ads that get the attention. Negative ads tear down support for a candidate. And thus you had liberal groups running negative ad campaigns against the primary candidates on the Republican side that they really did not want to face in the general election. Again, that’s increasingly a bipartisan pattern, but it’s really interesting as Americans are watching the television, or for that matter, looking at digital media and looking at the negative ads. Those ads might not actually be placed, and you can trace this if you have the time and the intention. They might not be placed by other Republicans. They might be placed by Democrats or activist groups on the left, trying to knock off the candidate they would see as more threatening in the general election.

Part II

Are We Witnessing a Fundamental Shift in the American Political Landscape?

But back to the Democratic party at the national level. It’s really interesting to look at the press coverage. For example, CNN ran a news story just in recent days, written by Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner. The headline was this: “Trump wants Americans to believe Biden is a radical leftist. It’s a tough sell.” That was the headline, but it’s really interesting that even in the Democratic party, the argument is now that Joe Biden is far to the left of the Joe Biden who was a United States Senator and vice president under Barack Obama for two full terms. That’s a very interesting development. CNN and others are trying to say, there’s a claim here that he’s moved left, but he hasn’t really moved left. Except Joe Biden is saying that he’s moved left. The Democratic leadership is saying that he’s moved left, and there’s every indication that he’s going to move further left. He’s going to have to move further left if he’s going to keep the Democratic base. That’s extremely interesting because now we’re talking about a pattern that breaks precedent throughout most of recent American history.

What’s that precedent? What’s been the prevailing pattern? It has been that both amongst Democrats and Republicans, the primary has required Democrats to shift left and Republicans to shift right in order to gain the nomination. But then both parties and their nominees have to shift back to the center in order to win enough votes to gain the election, both in the popular vote and in the electoral college. So throughout most recent cycles, going back over a century in American politics, you’ve had a move to the left or a move to the right in the respective party and then a move to the center after the nomination has been won. But what we’re seeing amongst Democrats this year is exactly the opposite. Joe Biden supposedly won the 2020 Democratic nomination. He’s about to receive it in an official way, just a matter of days, because he ran to the center. He ran against more radical candidates including of course, Bernie Sanders most famously. But now you have Joe Biden after he has won the nomination, supposedly in order to sideline a dangerously progressive candidate like the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, but now he is being required by his own party to shift further to the left.

Now, just as evidence of that in press coverage, it’s interesting to see two different articles that appeared within three days at the Washington Post. Again, a very democratically leaning paper and one that is quite editorially liberal. The headline was, in an article by David Weigel: “The Trailer: Joe Biden has shifted left.” Matt Viser wrote an article in the same newspaper two days later with the headline: “Biden’s vision comes into view, and it’s much more liberal than it was.”

Now, in this case, notice that neither reporter or the newspaper they serve seems to be disappointed that Joe Biden has shifted left, but they’re certainly documenting that he has done so. David Weigel in his article, “Biden is happily inheriting a party that has moved to the left without interruption since he left the vice presidency.” He continue telling us that the Unity Task Force, “the product of a deal between the nominee and primary runner-up Bernie Sanders, found Biden’s team inching a little further in that direction, cautious, careful with its wording”–the next words are really important–“but dramatically different from the politics that defined much of Biden’s career.” Which is to say that Joe Biden running for president in 2020 is actually running against not only Donald Trump, but Joe Biden when he was a Senator and Joe Biden when he was vice president.

Speaking of his satisfaction with this situation, Biden’s primary opponent Bernie Sanders said, after this document was released, “I think the compromise that they came up with if implemented will make Biden the most progressive president since FDR.” That’s quite a statement coming from Bernie Sanders.

Matt Viser in his article wrote this, “The presumptive Democratic nominee has offered the biggest burst of policy proposals since he effectively won the nomination, including a plan to spend $700 billion on American products and research. It marks a significant move to the left from where Biden and his party were only recently — on everything from climate and guns to health care and policing — and reflects a fundamental shift in the political landscape.” That’s a big issue for us to consider. Are we now witnessing a fundamental shift in the political landscape? There is no question that politically and demographically, it appears that it is true. We are seeing this fundamental shift in the political landscape. It is especially immediately apparent among the Democrats, amongst the more progressive energies in this country, but it is also increasingly evident generationally.

Similarly, an article written by Adam Nagourney of The New York Times included in its subhead the claim that the nation, meaning the United States, is “edging to the left.” But edging is an interesting verb here because given the press coverage and given closer observation of things such as the draft of the Democratic party platform, it doesn’t appear that there’s merely edging going on towards the left. It’s a more eager embrace of the left. Speaking of that larger pattern by which candidates had generally moved to the left or the right during the primaries and then to the center, the pattern that’s broken now, Michelle Cottle, the member of The New York Times editorial board wrote a massive article that was one of the main parts of the review section of the July 26 edition of the newspaper. It was entitled: “The Battle for Biden.” Cottle writes this well into the article, “In the closing weeks of the primary, Mr. Biden began gently inching left on certain issues in a measured gesture to progressives. Shortly before the final debate, he endorsed Senator Warren’s bankruptcy reform and embraced a version of Senator Sanders’ plan to make four-year public colleges tuition-free for many students. The day after Mr. Sanders dropped out of the race, Mr. Biden called for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 60 from 65.

She continues, “After receiving Mr. Sanders’s endorsement, Mr. Biden kicked things up a notch. As proof of their commitment to party harmony, the former rivals created a half-dozen of those working groups called unity task forces. The groups, each with five or six appointees from the Biden camp and three from the Sanders’s camp were charged with drawing up recommendations on health care, climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration, education and the economy.”

What we’re looking at here is pretty comprehensive evidence, as documented even in more liberal newspapers, of what they claim to be a shift to the left, whether it’s edging or inching, and a candidate who is significantly to the left of where he was just a matter, let’s be honest, of weeks ago, not to mention in decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president to President Obama. But then that raises a fundamental question, where’s President Obama in the midst of all of this? Well, here’s a clue. Speaking at the funeral of the late Congressman John Lewis, Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, handed down edicts on policies that are way to the left of where he was as president of the United States at the same time that Joe Biden was his vice-president.

Jason L. Riley perceptively writes a column for the Wall Street Journal with the headline: “Obama’s Progressive Pivot is Meant to Push Biden Leftward.” I think Riley’s absolutely right. He writes this, “It wasn’t long ago that the former president was trying to steer Democrats in a more moderate direction,” speaking of President Obama. But then he goes on to say that at the funeral service, America heard from a very different Barack Obama. Jason Riley says that he turned the funeral speech into a stump speech “and offered his blessing to any number of progressive causes. Among other things, he now wants the Senate to ditch the filibuster, which he supported and employed as a senator and grant statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, two liberal bastions that could be counted on to elect more Democrats.” Jason Riley, who is himself African-American, pointed to the fact that the former president also changed his tone on racial controversies.

Now, this is a pattern that we’ve talked about before on a smaller scale. The pattern we noted back, for example, in 2012, is that when Barack Obama was running for reelection in 2012, he was a far more liberal candidate, at least in public policies than he was when first elected in 2008. In 2008, Barack Obama officially believed that marriage must be limited to the union of a man and a woman. And by 2012, Barack Obama was demanding that legalization of same-sex marriage. That’s just four years. That’s how a moral revolution happens. That’s how political shifts take place. But we’re noticing here that the vast, rapid, very seismic political shifts are really taking place in policy terms on the Democratic side. The great debate on the Republican side is not so much at this point over policy terms, but as you’re looking at this particular argument made by Jason Riley, I think he’s right. President Obama is posturing Joe Biden to have to run far to the left of where the two of them had run in 2008 and in 2012. Now, they’re not doing so because they believe it’s a losing strategy. They’re doing so because they believe it is a winning strategy. And that’s what we ought to find most interesting.

Part III

A Platform for the Moral Revolution: A Look at the Democratic Party’s 2020 Platform Draft

But by the time you look at all these policies, you also have to recognize that the ultimate policy statement undertaken by a political party every four years in a political race is the party’s platform. And just a few days ago, there was released a draft of the Democratic party’s platform for the year 2020. It is a draft and thus there will be alterations before the party adopts the platform officially. But it’s really interesting to note that on page 30 of the draft, the statement says, “We condemn the Trump administration’s discriminatory actions against the LGBTQ+ community”–notice, by the way, it’s LGBTQ+ community–“including the dangerous and unethical regulation allowing doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies to discriminate against patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The statement there of course is written in political language, but basically the Democratic party here is calling for a national policy that would require doctors, hospitals, and that would include, for example, religious hospitals, Catholic hospitals, evangelical hospitals and insurance companies to provide for what’s called sex reassignment surgery. And thus you see the kind of language that’s used here. The democratic party says it’s going to be avid in pushing the LGBTQ+ agenda. And as we saw in The Briefing yesterday, that + is a very significant sign.

There is a lot more to the platform, of course, but by the time you reach page 35 of the draft, we read this, “Democrats are committed to ending discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability status. We will appoint,” says the statement, “US Supreme Court justices and federal judges who look like America, are committed to the rule of law, will uphold individual civil rights and civil liberties as essential components of a free and democratic society, and will respect and enforce foundational precedence, including Brown vs Board of Education and Roe v. Wade.” Well, there you have it. Absolute, undiluted support for abortion. In this case, you’re talking about support for Roe v. Wade.

It’s important to note that in the 2016 Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton, the nominee, said that she would only appoint justices and judges who would uphold Roe v. Wade. That shows you just how far apart the two parties are. But further evidence is found on pages 38 and 39 of the draft platform. You have the affirmation of the Equal Rights amendment. And later you have this statement, “Like the majority of Americans, Democrats believe every woman should be able to access high quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to women’s reproductive health and rights, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment and protecting and codifying Roe v. Wade.”

Now, that’s breathtaking right there because when you’re at Joe Biden, you’re looking at someone who had bragged about the fact that repeatedly as a senator, he had voted for the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment was a bipartisan effort undertaken after Roe v. Wade, to ensure that the consciences of pro-life Americans would not be violated by using their tax money to perform abortions. Joe Biden had been for the Hyde Amendment until in the middle of the 2020 Democratic primary race. He had to abandon it, or he was going to be abandoned by his own party. That’s that shift you’re seeing. But now in this party platform, as in 2016, by the way, with Hillary Clinton, you see the acknowledgement of the fact that Democratic party is going to demand and work for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Just understand the bottom line of that. It would mean that every single American taxpayer would become a funder of abortion.

Later on the same page, page 38, under the heading “Protecting LGBTQ+ Rights,” the party commits itself to support for the so-called Equality Act. Now that’s an act that will come into direct collision with religious liberty. It’s a nondiscrimination act, a comprehensive act that is great goal of the LGBTQ community and activist groups. If you have a Democratic majority in the Senate and you have a Democratic president, you can count on the fact that the Equality Act will be swept very quickly into law. And you had any hesitation in understanding how that will be a direct collision with religious liberty, in the same paragraph, the platform declares, “We will work to ensure LGBTQ+ people are not discriminated against when seeking to adopt or foster children, protect LGBTQ+ children from bullying and assault, and guarantee transgender students access to facilities based on their gender identity.” Well, there’s the great battle of ideas and furthermore, the great battle of worldviews in a nutshell, and in just one party.

Consider the fact that if you were to hand this party platform draft of the Democratic party in 2020 to virtually any major democrat, just say eight or 12 years ago, they would deny it. The Joe Biden who’s going to be the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is going to be holding positions that the Joe Biden, even as Barack Obama’s vice president, would not have embraced and politically probably could not have embraced. There’s that fundamental shift, at least amongst a large number of Americans, especially on the left. The daunting issue for Christians committed to a biblical worldview is understanding just how powerful, how tenacious, and how numerous are those, especially now in the Democratic party, who hold to a diametrically opposed position on so many of the fundamental issues of great political, moral, and social concern. If nothing else, all of these issues put together have to make very clear that there is no separation of the political from the moral, in this sense, because the politics is in large sense, the driver of the morals when it comes to the future of our nation. We better realize that fact.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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