Friday, October 9, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, October 9, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Policy Differences on Clear Display in Vice Presidential Debate: Obamacare, Abortion, Court Packing, and More
On Wednesday night on that stage in Salt Lake City, what took place was closer to an actual debate and in this case between the vice presidential nominees than had been the case in the first presidential debate, which turned out not to be much of a debate at all, rather something of an embarrassing free for all. But when it comes to the vice presidential debate, we have to recognize that in almost all cases, those debates simply become a part of the campaign forgotten almost immediately after the election. That may or may not be true of the vice presidential debate that took place Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, but time will tell.
In the meantime, it is important to recognize that even as those events turn out not to be so illuminating, they are often clarifying. And that was the case on Wednesday night. We also have to consider another aspect of this, which isn't about policy at all. But first, let's think about the policy. The big issue here is that both sides had an opportunity, vice presidential nominee for the Democrats, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California and Michael Pence, the incumbent vice president of the United States, the Republican nominee. They squared off and their main responsibility is actually to defend the larger ticket.
More than anything else, they had the responsibility, which is the perpetual vice presidential nominee's responsibility to try to deflect attention away from themselves and onto the standard bearer of their ticket. For Kamala Harris, that meant talking incessantly about Joe Biden, the former vice president now the Democratic presidential nominee. When it comes to Vice President Pence, it meant defending and defining Trump administration policies over and over again. And that meant unconditional support. But you have to understand that is actually written into the fabric of the vice presidency.
Vice presidents and vice presidential candidates never disagree with the presidential candidate of their party, whom they are serving in any public kind of way. And that's actually what you should expect. There may be private disagreements, but when it comes to the ticket, the top of the ticket sets the agenda and the vice presidential nominee nods in agreement and every once in a while has to make a public statement. Now there's another historic aspect to the vice presidential nominee in history and that is that you have to have the presidential candidates, at least historically speaking, somewhat above the fray, the fisticuffs of face-to-face combat and politics. That's one of the reasons why the vice presidential candidates have often been even as referred to in the media, they've often been the attack dogs of the campaign.
The vice presidential candidate says things that are more on the edge and more critical than you're going to hear from the presidential candidates themselves. That's the norm. It hasn't always played out that way, especially in the case of Donald Trump, who as candidate and as incumbent president running for reelection likes to throw a lot of the punches himself. As a matter of fact, when it comes to President Trump and his vice president, there was something of an exchange of the normal pattern with the vice president demonstrating the kind of calm, the kind of deliberation that in most cases is what you see at the top of the ticket. And that's calculated. Vice President Pence had a big job to do last night, and that's always the case with the vice presidential candidate when you have an elected president and vice president running for reelection. The vice-president has to defend the previous four years. That's his job.
But in terms of political calculations, the big question is, how many so-called undecided voters, if there are many at all to begin with, were actually swayed one way or another by the debate? And I'll just simply say as an observer, that the second dimension of this enters in, and that is whether or not the candidates were likable. Now, that also is something of a political calculation. We tend to like those with whom we agree, but it is also interesting to see that there were a lot of Democrats who had to argue that Senator Harris was not as unlikable as many had indicated by watching the debate last night. And that included a significant group of undecided voters who were polled by researcher Frank Luntz. And what makes that interesting is that Frank Luntz had indicated that many of those voters did not like the president's performance in the first debate, but they also indicated they didn't like Senator Harris's performance, describing it as condescending and arrogant as compared even to Joe Biden in the debate against President Trump, that so-called first debate. So far, the first and only debate.
It may well be that on the Democratic side, the main concern was trying to score points against the Trump-Pence administration, but also to try to give the warning that the Republicans are coming after your insurance, that is after Obamacare. But it's interesting that Vice President Pence hit back pretty hard in his criticism of the Affordable Care Act, as it is technically known. But that was one of the main talking points beyond the attempts by Senator Harris to try to dismiss the Trump administration and especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The clear policy differences on urgent issues did arise on Wednesday night, most importantly, over the issue of abortion. And the differences between the Democratic and the Republican parties and their respective ticket was on full display. You had Vice President Pence speaking very clearly as pro-life and saying he wasn't ashamed of it.
On the other hand, you had Senator Harris being very clear that she was supportive of abortion speaking about a woman's right to choose and to make decisions about her own body. In a report by Ruth Umoh at forbes.com, she reported that the vice president had said, "I am pro-life. I don't apologize for it." And then she wrote, before he "falsely stated that Biden and Harris support funding abortion 'up to the moment of birth.'" Now, what's crucial here is the fact that Forbes said that he had falsely said that. "Before falsely stating that Biden and Harris support funding abortion 'up to the moment of birth.'" Now. you'll notice that Forbes has editorialized in that saying that the vice president statement was false, but let's ask the question, in what sense was it false? In what sense could it have been false?
Now, here's the issue and we need to look at this closely. This is the mainstream media covering up for one side in the political debate and allowing even facilitating obfuscation and untruth. So, is it true or not that Biden and Harris support funding abortion up to the moment of birth? Well, it's not true if you mean that they've never said the words in that exact order, but it is true in terms of the practical effect of the policies on which they are running. Policy number one, they will accept no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.
That's official in the Democratic platform. And that means abortion up until the moment of birth. They might not use that language, but it is dishonesty to say that they would accept any restriction up until the moment of birth. And they've given absolutely no evidence that their position will be anything other than what you saw as the Democratic party's position in states like New York and Illinois and Rhode Island that have legislated exactly that, but you're not going to hear them use those words, but that is the truth.
But the second issue has to do with funding. We go back to Forbes where the reporter says that the vice president had falsely stated "that Biden and Harris support funding abortion up to the moment of birth." Well, why is funding in there? It is because after 30 years of supporting the Hyde amendment as a United States senator, Joe Biden has now said because he wanted the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination that he would move to eliminate the Hyde amendment. And that means that federal taxpayers would be paying for abortion. And if they would be paying for abortion under a Biden-Harris administration, then they would also be paying for abortion at least as called for that administration without restrictions.
And that would include restrictions in the third trimester, which means the vice president was exactly right. And Forbes has misrepresented his position, but you see that all over the place with so-called fact checking or the fact checkers are confusing the issue of abortion rather than clarifying it. By the way, the specific argument used by Senator Harris in support of abortion had to do with the fact that she upholds Roe v. Wade, and then went on to say, "I will always fight for a woman's right to make a decision over her own body. It should be her decision, not that of Donald Trump or Mike Pence." Well, throwing in Donald Trump and Mike Pence there is avoiding the point that actually the argument of the Biden-Harris ticket is that no one should be able to place any restrictions whatsoever on a woman seeking an abortion for any reason or no reason at any time.
But in my view, the most important issue that arose in the vice presidential debate Wednesday night had to do not with the answer to a question, but with the refusal to answer a question. And that had to do with Vice President Pence clearly posing to Senator Harris whether or not she and former Vice President Biden would pack the court if indeed Justice Amy Coney Barrett were to be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. Now back in the first presidential debate, very tellingly and quite awkwardly, the former vice president refused to answer the question and actually said he wasn't going to answer the question, because if he did answer the question, that's what everyone would be talking about. Well, obviously, it's one of the most pressing questions before the nation. And following his lead, the vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, also refused to answer the question. To the credit of Vice President Pence, he at least forced the issue by saying, "Let the record show, she won't answer the question."
What Happened to Political Courage? Former Vice President Joe Biden Refuses to Reveal His Position on Court Packing
It's hard to estimate just how important that question is, but that then takes us to a development after the vice presidential debate, and the very next day, that would be yesterday, the Democratic presidential nominee, again, refused to say whether he supports adding additional seats to the United States Supreme Court in over to overcome a conservative majority on the court. Speaking during a campaign event in Phoenix, he said to the reporters, "You'll know my opinion on court packing when the election is over." He went on to elaborate, "It's a great question and I don't blame you for asking, but you know, the moment I answered that question, the headline in every one of your newspapers will be the answer to that question."
Well, exactly, but I want to go on record right now on today's edition of The Briefing saying that this is, in my lifetime, the most cowardly assertion made by any major party nominee for major office in the United States. This is cowardice pure and simple. It's admitted cowardice. The former vice president of the United States admits that it is a major question, but then says he will answer it after the election. Just what would happen? What would you imagine would happen if any other candidate for the presidency of all things would say, "I'm going to refuse to answer that question until after the election." It is pure cowardice.
Now, at least in my experience, the amazing thing about this is not that the candidate refused to answer the question. That's often true as a matter of fact, and even in the vice presidential debate on Wednesday night, many people were frustrated because the moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, ask questions that the candidates didn't answer, but that's now pretty much standard form for what are called these candidate debates. But when it comes to what took place on Thursday with former vice president Biden, the big issue is this, again, many candidates don't answer questions. They find ways of finessing, not answering the question.
They sometimes even kind of acknowledge they're not going to answer the question, but I have never in my life seen a candidate acknowledge it in this way and basically say right in front, "I'm not going to answer the question because a lot of people won't like my answer. And so, I'm going to answer it only after the election." Well, let's just put it this way. Americans have been warned. But it tells us something else as we think about the great worldview clash going on in America right now. And it has to do with the fact that Joe Biden probably can't answer that question without having one of two inevitable effects.
Number one, he's going to scare a lot of Americans he wants to vote for him who wouldn't vote for a president who would pack the court, a very radical action. But secondly, he can't answer the question no without alienating a good bit of the leftward base of his own party. He needs those votes too. He probably has them all wrapped up, but he might shake them loose if he says right up front, "No, I'm not going to pack the court." That would require political courage, which by the way is in short order often in American history. But that kind of political courage has rarely disappeared or evaporated as quickly as it did in this statement by the former vice-president on Thursday.
At this point, to be honest, we simply have to assume that if the Democratic ticket is elected, court packing and the end of the filibuster are very much on the table. And even if the former vice president wouldn't say so, similar statements have come from, for example, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who said, "We're going to get a whole lot done. And as I've said everything, everything is on the table." So, let's take him in his word, everything, everything is on the table.
Opening the Door to a Dangerous Biotechnological Revolution: Nobel Prize Awarded to Two Scientists who Pioneered CRISPR Gene Editing Tool
But next, we shift to another very important issue but this one is Dateline from Sweden, where there the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday announced two recipients of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2020. They are Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. One of the rare times that you've had thus far two women sharing a Nobel Prize in the hard sciences, such as this in chemistry. The reason why, their development of what is known as the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool in technology. This is indeed a revolution in genetics and in biotechnology, because what the scientists now we must say working with others came up with is what is in effect a set of digital scissors that will allow the editing not only of what might be the human genome in its entirety but of individual genes. It is possible only because of the most recent developments in recent years in genetic technology and engineering. But also, it has come with an enormous set of ethical challenges and controversies that are inevitable.
Emma Reynolds and Katie Hunt reporting for CNN put the story this way. "The CRISPR gene editing tools have revolutionized the molecular life sciences brought new opportunities for plant breeding are contributing to innovative cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true" according to a press release from the Nobel committee. Next, "There have also been some ethical concerns around the CRISPR technology. However, Charpentier, a French microbiologist, and Doudna, an American biochemist are the first women to jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the sixth and seventh women to win the chemistry prize."
Now, what's really interesting about that is the strange editing of that paragraph. It starts out telling us that there have been some ethical concerns about the CRISPR technology and then goes on to speak about gender. But what we're really looking at here is that this technology does open the door for a genetic and biotechnical or biotechnological revolution, one that could threaten to redefine what it means to be human. Now, it's one thing to talk about this kind of CRISPR technology when talking about plant breeding, and by the way, there could be some real ethical involvements with that, but when it comes to human beings, well, there we are looking at an intentional germline therapy when it comes to the human genome and genetic structure, and this raises enormous ethical problems.
For one thing, the very technology itself or the editing of human genes. Now that raises a question, would these be heritable or not? And in this case, yes, these genetic technologies would not affect only the individual who might be receiving the so-called gene therapy, but all of the descendants of that individual. And that means this is a moral responsibility with multi-generational impact. Eventually it could continue throughout the human race, but this technology also raises the huge ethical questions of what is known as both positive and negative eugenics. Now, you may hear the word eugenics. It means good genes, and it means improving the genes of a species. Again, it's one thing if you're talking about a daffodil, it's quite a different thing if you're talking about a human being.
Negative eugenics means you try to prevent certain bad genes from showing up. Positive eugenics means that you try to change the genetic structure to bring about desired ends. So for instance, negative eugenics would be, let's try to eliminate say Tay-Sachs disease or another genetic disease from human beings that would be negative. We're targeting certain bad genes we don't want to show up again and afflict human beings with disease. Positive eugenics means, well, we would like really smart babies. We would like babies with huge athletic ability. We would like to have babies that have a large IQ. Now, you begin to understand the ethical issues at stake here. And you also must realize something that is absolutely important as we try to think as Christians and that is that there is always a moral dimension to technology.
It's impossible that any technology comes without moral dimensions because we're moral beings. And it also means that no matter the technology, sinful human beings can use it for either righteous or sinful effects. There are many scientists and champions of biotechnology who share grave concerns with many of us about the use of CRISPR technology when it comes to human beings. And keep in mind, there is also the argument of inevitability. And that is that once a technology exists and it becomes normalized, it will be used for almost everything. Even if it is illegal or considered immoral to use the technology in say one way in one country, someone somewhere else will break those rules. And that line has already been crossed in 2018 with an individual identified as a rogue Chinese scientist creating the world's first gene edited babies, two of them with this CRISPR technology.
So let me be honest about something that worries me. I worry that there would be many Christian parents, for example, who if confronted with the question, when asked, "Do you want trait A or B or C for your child?" They would feel like they almost have to answer the question. "Yes, we want this good trait. No, we don't want that bad trait." But notice, what we are doing there is potentially dividing human beings between those we will accept and those we will not. Now, it may be that this technology can be used in some way in a therapeutic form that will help human beings. That's also true by the way, with human embryonic stem cell research, but that doesn't make the research itself morally right, the destruction of human embryos and that kind of medical research.
This issue worries me because I think many Christians really aren't thinking through the implications of these issues. We talked about IVF and discarded and destroyed embryos earlier in the week. There are all kinds of these technologies, especially as related to biotechnology and reproductive technologies that people really aren't thinking about in terms of what is basically at stake. But when it comes to the Nobel committee, they decided this was big and worthy of this kind of consideration. And what makes that very interesting is that generally you have this award, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for example, given for research that has taken place and proved its effectiveness decades ago. With CRISPR, it's just a matter of years ago. That's how fast the world is turning.
Who Was That Fly and Why Were We All So Fascinated by It? A Big Lesson from a Little Creature
But finally, as the week comes to an end, sometimes it's the little things that get our attention. A little thing like a character who caused a lot of conversation for his or her appearance at the vice presidential debate. And this was a six legged housefly that appeared on the head of the vice president of the United States and stayed there for about two minutes. The vice president deserves credit for maintaining his dignity under that circumstance and not overreacting to the fly. But on the other hand, human beings watching the debate found that they couldn't help but stare at the fly. No matter how much they wanted to pay attention to what the vice president was saying, it was that fly on his head that had our attention.
Now, there are a lot of questions posed by this. How in the world did that fly get through the security the vice president of the United States? Was he frisked? Was he fingerprinted? No. He ended up right there on the vice president's head, and there he stayed for a matter of time. It became such an issue of interest that it first appeared in social media with people asking, could that be a fly? Yes, it is a fly. The fly is still there. The Washington Post even ran an opinion piece which reported to be an interview with the fly on the vice president's head. That single fly has become the most famous insect around the world and he did so simply for appearing in a debate for about two minutes. It was not what he said, just the fact that he was there. But in the grand scheme of things, there's nothing particularly important about that house fly except this, we're talking about it today, even on The Briefing, you were looking at it even during a vice presidential debate.
Why? Well, it has to have something to do with the fact that we, as human beings, are able to focus only on what we want to focus. It's the reality that no matter how much we may prize our powers of concentration and our intellectual discipline, the moment a fly ends up on someone's head, we can't help but stare at it. This is the way it is often when we're trying to study. This is the way it is often even when we're trying to pray. This is the way as it is and was as we were watching a vice presidential debate. We are far more inconstant than we want to admit.
In this sense, we all have something like a spiritual form of ADHD or some kind of similar situation in which we may say we want to concentrate only on our prayer, on our reading of scripture, on our study, on our devotion, but the reality is we find ourselves distracted all too quickly. All it takes is a fly. All it takes is for a fly to enter the picture like that and all of us simply turn into five-year-olds again. And that's the way it is. That's the lot of humanity.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.