briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, August 20, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, August 20, 2020, I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Who’s Who at Democratic National Convention and Why it Matters: Former Presidents and First Ladies, Democratic Socialists, and Even Some Republicans Take the Virtual Stage

Well, we’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention insofar as it is something to be watched. That’s basically all it is as a virtual event in the context of COVID-19. The Republican National Convention, the contours of which are not exactly known yet, will be held the following week. That’s now just next week. And it will be in general terms also a virtual event, although again, there may be some kind of in-person representation, but COVID-19 has changed the entire context. And for the Democrats, especially given many of the arguments they have been using, well, they had to basically have an entirely virtual event. So even though history will record that it was the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that hosted the event, there actually wasn’t much hosting that had actually happened.

But there were a lot of interesting things. The entire production reduced to about two hours a night, it lacks the dynamism to say the very least of the traditional political convention, which draws a lot of its energy from the fact that you have some building, some space absolutely filled with people wearing the paraphernalia. They are very much a part of the political process. But in recent years, indeed, you could say in recent decades, it’s mostly just theater. Nothing of tremendous importance has happened at either of the national political conventions held every four years in about a generation. The last time anyone went into one of these conventions with a huge question might’ve been you could argue 1972 for the Democrats, 1976 for the Republicans. Since then, not much mystery. A lot of drama. And the energy is just not in the event, lacking the crowd and the dynamism.

Furthermore, the Democrats decided that what they would do would be following their commitment to identity politics, trying to have as many intersectional points of contact as possible. Rather than have the traditional keynote address on Tuesday night, they actually had 17 different people speaking. There’s a lot of symbolism, a lot of representation. And as you’re looking at the Republican party, you’re going to see a lot of representation as well, but not nearly as much as you see in the Democrats because they are very committed to identity politics, and they have to check off a much longer list ,and they have an enormous amount of intragroup criticism or who gets representation and who does not. At what time did it come with? With what prominence? How much time did they have? All of that very much within the calculation.

But as you’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention, and of course, it’s building up to what will happen tonight as the very capstone event of the DNC meeting, and that’s when former vice president Joe Biden, now officially the 2020 democratic presidential nominee, will receive that nomination and give his speech. But thus far over the course of the last three nights, there have been many speakers. You had Michelle Obama, you had former president Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton. You also had audio presentations, albeit short, from former president Jimmy Carter. He was president from 1977 until January of 1981, and is the oldest living former president of the United States. Mrs. Carter, Rosalynn Carter, also gave a brief address. There was also a speech from independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who at one point had led in the 2020 democratic nomination race until he was eventually overcome by Joe Biden. But he was officially nominated himself and he had a number of delegate votes recorded in the roll call of the states. And he had the privileged position of giving a thematic address. And we’ll be talking more about that shortly.

But amongst the speakers at the Democratic National Convention were several identified as Republicans, most importantly, former Ohio governor John Kasich. And the appearance of former governor Kasich is a very interesting thing for us to think about for a minute. Why would it be to the advantage of John Kasich to speak to the Democratic National Convention? The bottom line is he dislikes the incumbent president of the United States, Donald Trump, so much that he would apparently do almost anything not only to express his disdain, but to try to defeat President Trump when it comes to the 2020 general election. Why would it be to the advantage of the Democrats to have a former Republican governor who was, let’s remind ourselves, a competitor to President Trump in the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination? Why would it serve their purposes? Because this kind of crossover appearance, which came with an explicit endorsement of Joe Biden, is going to be claimed by the Democrats as an opportunity to reach out to Republicans, a crossover vote. They’re not really concerned with four or five Republicans by identity speaking at the convention. They’re trying to reach out to just about every constituency possible.

These crossover appearances really don’t turn out to be very important, but they are noteworthy. And in this case, what John Kasich said is actually more important than the fact that he said it there. Speaking from what he called a crossroads in Ohio, John Kasich said, “I’m a lifelong Republican, but these are not normal times.” He then went on to endorse Joe Biden, citing has experienced and his wisdom and his decency. He then said this, “I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat. They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that because I know the measure of the man. Reasonable, faithful, respectful, and you know, no one pushes Joe around.” The problem with that is that the statement made by Governor Kasich had already been repudiated by just about every previous speaker, the Democratic National Convention. The whole theme of the DNC, even though they talked a great deal about unity, was the fact that they were sending every signal possible that the party is moving, indeed perhaps the right verb is lurching to the left. It’s not just conservatives who were saying this. Yesterday’s front page of the New York Times included an article above the fold on the front page that included the words about Biden, “his party veers left.”

But at this point, it helps us to understand that even as you’re looking at two major political parties, within both parties, to some extent, there are shades of red amongst the Republicans, and there are shades of blue amongst the Democrats. And when you’re looking at John Kasich, you’re looking at someone who entered America’s political consciousness as deep red, but exited the role as governor of Ohio in a very different position. John Kasich was elected to Congress, taking office in 1983 and serving until the year 2001. He entered as a part of the Reagan revolution and he identified with president Reagan’s call for a small government, for limits on taxation warnings against government overreach. And in general terms, he identified as a social conservative. Kasich then spent about a decade in the private sector before reemerging to run for the office of governor of Ohio. He served in that role between 2011 and 2019. As governor of Ohio, Kasich was a somewhat different character politically than he had been as a member of Congress. Now, there are no doubt some continuities, but the discontinuities include the fact that the small government congressmen became a governor who actually sponsored, for example, the expansion of Medicaid within the state.

By the time Kasich ran for governor, he was also identified with a different position on many social issues. He’s still identified as being pro-life and he signed several pieces of pro-life legislation, but he refused to support others. When it comes to LGBTQ issues, by the year 2010, many people had observed that he had moved to what might be described as a more moderate position, amongst the people for whom the word moderate is attractive. By 2018, he had basically said he was at least in favor to some extent of same sex marriage, or at least he wasn’t against it. Much of this factored into the 2016 Republican race. And people might remember that John Kasich stayed in the race for the Republican nomination until only he and Donald Trump were left. And then eventually he dropped out as well, leaving Donald Trump the only surviving candidate and thus the 2016 Republican nominee. The bitterness was deep.

Discussing the context. Gary Abernathy, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote this: “Despite their obvious differences, Kasich and Trump have in common egos of gargantuan proportions, and there was only room for one of them and the Republican party.” So it is really interesting, however, to look at figures like Meg Whitman and others identified as Republicans who appeared at the Democratic National Convention, and virtually all of them are far to the left of the current Republican party, especially on moral issues, just to mention the LGBTQ issues as one example. Now, as I’ve argued on The Briefing for years now, what we see are the two major political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, each working towards the logical outworking of their basic principles as well as their party personality. That’s to say, there aren’t that many moderate Democrats left and there aren’t that many moderate Republicans left, because the issues are stark. And to be honest, it’s very hard to imagine what would be a credible, moderate position on many of the issues the nation now confronts.

Those who identify as moderate in this political sense often do end up migrating party to party, and they tend to follow where the political energy is perceived to be. So during the 1980s, into the 1990s, with the Reagan revolution and Republican ascendancy in so many ways, you had a sizable number of officeholders who were Democrats who switched parties and then became Republicans. Given the fact that there is now perceived to be a leftward shift in the American population, it just might be that Democrats are counting on a similar shift, and history will record whether they are right or wrong. But this then takes us to a different issue as we’re thinking about the political world that we’re confronting right now. You have the reality that as I have already said, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times includes a headline article talking about the Democrats veering to the left. You’ve seen similar headlines; lurching to the left, moving fast to the left, marching to the left, because any way you look at it, it is a huge story.

If you look at where the Republican party stands now compared to 2016, lots of continuity. Even on most issues of domestic policy, there is a sizeable continuity amongst Republicans of recent cycles, four years, eight years, 12 years, but amongst the Democrats, it’s a different story. But the big process of change is in the last four years. Between 2016 and 2020, massive ideological change to the left in the democratic party, so much so that Joe Biden right now is running on a platform that repudiates the positions that he held when he was vice president under Barack Obama. The same thing is true if you compare Joe Biden in 2020, even with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden and his party are running far to the left and they’re sending every signal that the movement to the left will accelerate, not decelerate. And they’re sending every signal that their shift to the left has energy, that it’s going to accelerate, that it’s not going to slow down, much less be stopped.

Part II

What Exactly Does “Moderate” Mean in Politics?

But that then takes us to a very different question. What exactly does moderate mean? As I said, sometimes it refers to politics or political stance, but in other contexts, it seems to refer to something else; something that isn’t nonpolitical, but something that isn’t so much rooted in policy or platform at all. More in personality. Ruy Teixeira writing a major article for the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, asked the question, “Can Biden hold the Democrats together?” And he writes about the fact that Biden’s going to have to arraign some kind of grand bargain between the party’s left and center. Well, that’s not actually likely. It’s not right, likely to be a grand bargain. As a matter of fact, if you’ve been watching and listening to what’s going on in the Democratic National Convention and before, you have the center promising the left that it will move to the left as quickly as possible. And Joe Biden’s sending all of those signals, including the huge signal of asking Bernie Sanders to loan his team of advisors to come up with a party platform.

The platform itself doesn’t endorse every policy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders, but it points in that direction and as far to the left of where Joe Biden was during the 2020 democratic nomination process. But the word moderate comes up again and again. You’ve heard that at the Democratic National Convention too, but you see it even more in the press. That’s important. You’ll notice that Joe Biden never calls himself a moderate. His major campaign leaders would never call him a moderate because that would be effectively homicide in the democratic party. But they’re trying to say as much as possible to the American people, “moderate, moderate, moderate.”

And they’re saying that not only about Joe Biden, but about Kamala Harris. After writing about Biden and his challenge to make peace with the left wing of the party, Teixeira writes this: “But the wing of the party inspired by Mr. Sanders and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez may well not be satisfied with this. For now,” he says, “an uneasy peace reigns in part because of Mr. Biden’s savvy inclusion of Mr. Sanders’ supporters in campaign task forces and in larger measure because of the shared intense focus of all wings of the party on beating Mr. Trump.” He then writes this: “If Democrats capture both the White House and the Senate, the activist left will claim a good deal of credit. That may embolden them to pressure Mr. Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, and other democratic leaders to move significantly to the left of the current Biden program, perhaps reviving the sort of ideas that Mr. Biden declined to endorse in the primaries.” Then he writes, quote, “Mr. Biden may be hoping that his selection of Ms. Harris, a black woman who was one of his primary rivals as his running mate, will insulate him from such left-wing pressure. But given Ms. Harris’ comparatively profile, that seems doubtful.”

So what does moderate mean? Even as you look at this sentence, it doesn’t seem to make much sense, not when you’re talking about policy. Every year that Kamala Harris has served in the Senate, she has been ranked by liberal rating agencies amongst the most liberal. Indeed, by at least some, the most liberal in voting record in the United States Senate. How then is she described as a moderate? Well, she did not take the most imaginably liberal positions during the primary process, but she kind of winked at them. And furthermore, how in the world can Teixeira in this article say that Joe Biden was trying to shore up his support from the party’s left wing by choosing Kamala Harris, who he says has a moderate profile? And so you have Joe Biden who in the media keeps saying is a moderate. And then you have Kamala Harris who some of the media are now saying is a moderate, but what does that mean? Because it really can’t refer to policy unless you’re talking about Joe Biden and saying, “Well, he’s not Bernie Sanders.” Well, that’s true, but that does not a moderate make. And when you’re talking about Kamala Harris, you’re not talking about her voting record. So what are you talking about?

Here’s something crucial. Two things. Number one, you do have the media playing the game of trying to act as if they are more moderate than they are. That’s just clear and simple. But there’s more to it than that, because intuitively, many Americans judge political characters, and that means candidates not so much by their policies, but what they infer to be, what they intuit to be, the personality of the candidate. And in that sense, Joe Biden has a far more moderate personality than either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. That’s just easy to define. You have Joe Biden who famously does sometimes lose his temper as well as garble the language, but he doesn’t have the kind of bombastic personality of either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. So in that sense, yes, he’s more moderate, but that means in a conversation by personality. It doesn’t mean policy.

The same thing’s true on the other side. That’s a bipartisan reality. But especially in this case, when talking about Kamala Harris, who’s been celebrated by the media for the last several years as being on the left, which she very much is, especially on social issues, by the way, you look at this and you understand the word moderate now is used for two reasons; one political, the other messaging, just coming down to personality. This is not so much moderate in policies as it is moderate and personality. But then there’s even more to that because the moderate in personality is something that really is largely distant from the American people. We don’t know these individuals. I really don’t. But as the late librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, said decades ago, it is a political image. Behind it is a political reality, but we end up voting for the political image.

Part III

From the Spotlight to the Shadows: President Bill Clinton’s Reckoning with the Democratic Party

By the way, in thinking about all of this, that front page article in yesterday’s New York Times was interesting for more than one reason. There were actually two articles under a big spread headline. One of the subheads had to do with former president Bill Clinton. They described him as going from a headliner to a bystander, even as this party moves left. But as the article makes clear, that is for two reasons. The first of them is related to policy. The current Democratic Party is repudiating the economic policies held by Bill Clinton when he was president of the United States for eight years and the standard bearer of the democratic party. That tells you a great deal about how far the party has moved. It is now not only distancing itself from what it categorizes as the neoliberalism of Bill Clinton, it’s repudiating it, and it’s doing so in the official terms of the party platform.

But there’s a second reason for the fact that the party is distancing itself from Bill Clinton, and this one isn’t so much political as it is moral. And in order to understand that, all you have to do is put up the name Bill Clinton and then #MeToo. The article by Adam Nagourney and Peter Baker makes clear that this distancing from Bill Clinton is not just about Monica Lewinsky, the intern with whom he had to admit having illicit sexual activity in the White House, but an entire line of women who had made charges of sexual misbehavior against Clinton, going back to when he was the governor of Arkansas. Now, just remind yourselves that Bill Clinton served two terms as a democratic president of the United States. But according to a CBS news poll reported in the New York times, only 56% of Democrats wanted the former president to speak at the Democratic National Convention. That is compared with 63% who demanded to hear from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who a matter of three or four years ago was a bartender in New York, who is now a first term member of Congress. There you have it, the transition in one party in a nutshell.

Part IV

President Trump Announces Posthumous Pardon for Susan B. Anthony: Why Is a Heroine of Women’s Suffrage a Divisive Figure on the Political Left?

But then shifting to a different issue with a similar historical focus with contemporary relevance, consider what has happened on the left to many of the former heroes and heroines of the feminist movement. Now, one of the things we have seen is that the LGBTQ agenda tends to be a significant limitation upon many of those who had been the heroes of feminism. First wave feminism for women’s suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and second wave feminism like Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem and others in the 1960s, seventies, and eighties, it is now being replaced with the non-binary ideology of the gender revolution and of course the word “transgender.” It’s a direct contradiction. But it’s also interesting to see right now how the issue of abortion functions in this way. Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers reporting for the New York Times as well had a story yesterday, the headline, “With Eye On Election, Trump Plans to Pardon Women’s Suffrage Icon.” This would be Susan B. Anthony, one of the founding mothers of the women’s suffrage movement and one of the heroines of feminism in the United States.

At least, she had been. She would be now, you would think. Of course, not only was she a crucial leader in the fight for women’s suffrage, which by the way, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, but she was also the first woman to have her face on an American coin, the now famous Susan B. Anthony dollar. But president Trump announced that he would be pardoning Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested in 1872 and convicted in 1873 of the crime of voting. But speaking of Susan B. Anthony, the New York Times, a paper well-identified with the left makes this statement: “She is also an increasingly divisive figure, adopted by anti-abortion forces and criticized for relegating black suffragists to the sidelines.” Well, if you put Susan B. Anthony in her historical context, after all, she died in 1909, the reality is that at her time, the argument really was for the suffrage. That is, the right to vote of white women in the United States.

But you have to notice that she was also cited here in this New York times article as having been adopted by anti-abortion forces. Now, there’s a huge debate about what Susan B. Anthony actually believed about abortion. She said very little explicitly about it. But there’s enough evidence there for the pro-life movement to cite Susan B. Anthony, as one who defended the sanctity of human life, and that’s enough. Here’s the important point. That is enough for Susan B. Anthony now to be a divisive figure on the left. And the importance of raising this issue today is really not about Susan B. Anthony, but about the issue of abortion and the sanctity of human life in the 21st century and what this tells us.

Finally, yesterday on The Briefing, I talked about a very important story coming from Lawrenceville, Georgia. It has to do with a young man who was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College. The young man’s name, Chike Uzuegbunam, and the fact that he had been shut down, even as his free speech was denied and his religious liberty was denied, as he sought even to cooperate within the rules of the university and what it identified as free expression zones. You can look to yesterday’s edition of The Briefing for a complete coverage of the issues there. But the case is soon going to be heard by the United States Supreme court on the technical question of whether or not there should be monetary damages given to Mr. Uzuegbunam. The college changed its policy, and the state of Georgia is arguing that that makes the case moot.

But on The Briefing yesterday, citing the filings issued by the state of Georgia through its attorney general’s office. I mentioned that this particular argument made in a federal court included language that identified what Mr. Uzuegbunam was saying, that is, speaking of the Christian gospel as “fighting words”. Put quotation marks around that, “fighting words.” That is a specific term about language that can constitutionally be limited. The point here is the abhorrence of considering the gospel of Jesus Christ as fighting words. But that does tell us again a great deal of where we stand in America, at least with some. but I was very encouraged yesterday to hear directly from Georgia attorney general, Christopher M. Carr, who told me that even as he had been appointed attorney general of Georgia in 2016 as all of this was happening, once he understood the argument being made by the state, he removed that argument. He changed the language. He stated to me that he emphatically does not identify the gospel of Jesus Christ with the language of fighting words when it comes to constitutionality.

As attorney general, Mr. Carr had also worked with Georgia Gwinnett College to change its blatantly unconstitutional policy. Again, that’s good news. The threats to religious liberty continue and this case is still extremely important, but I’m thankful to say the state of Georgia is no longer making that particularly abhorrent argument. And I want to express appreciation to Georgia attorney general, Christopher M. Carr, for reaching out personally and making that point. It was really good to hear.

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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