Friday, November 20, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, November 20, 2020.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
One More Term as Speaker of the House for Nancy Pelosi? The Crucial Constitutional Importance of that Office
This didn't make the front page of most newspapers, but as you're looking at the constitutional office of Speaker of the House of Representatives, you're looking at a very crucial officer of our government. And thus, whoever holds that position holds an enormous amount of political influence. Now, as you're looking at this office, the Speaker of the House for the last two years, that Speaker has been Nancy Pelosi, a very liberal Democrat from the state of California. And it appears that she will be the Speaker of the House for the next Congress, the 217th Congress.
But is she for sure? Well, actually, no, because the Democratic majority in the House is likely to be significantly smaller than it was in the last Congress that convened after the 2018 elections. And even as Nancy Pelosi won a voice vote this week to be the leader for party in the House, it isn't absolutely certain that she will become the Speaker of the House because that requires a majority of all the members of the House present, voting for that office. But still it's likely that she will be. We need to consider what that means.
Now, there is some fascinating background to this. Just consider the fact that as you look at the House of Representatives, the role of Speaker is almost always tied to which party has the majority of seats in that legislative chamber. The Democrats had the majority, although a smaller majority, so it's almost certain that a Democrat will fulfill this role. But then the question is which Democrat? Why is Nancy Pelosi the answer to that question?
Well, the fascinating answer is that she has been at this a very, very, very long time. And another good answer is she is incredibly adept at the politics of the House of Representatives. She knows how to count votes. She knows how to control her party's caucus, and thus, she is still at the top of the heap. The only politician in Washington who comes close to her in terms of tactics and in terms of strategic role is Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the majority in the Senate. And of course, that majority now is going to come down to those two special elections to be held on January the fifth, when it comes to the two Senate seats in Georgia.
But just put that on pause. Mitch McConnell is the master of the Senate. Nancy Pelosi really has mastered the House, and that's represented by the fact that even though younger members of the majority Democrats in the House would really like to unseat her, they can't because she, at this point, has such a hold on her own party's caucus.
But here's something else that's just really interesting. Both of the candidates for the Presidency by the major parties this year were well into their 70s. When you're looking at Joe Biden, he's nearing 80, but when it comes to Nancy Pelosi, she actually is 80. That means by definition, she has started her ninth decade of life. She was born March 26, 1940, and she was born into a hotly political family. Her father was a rather well-known politician. She learned politics at the dinner table, and she transferred that to the state of California from Baltimore, which was the family's political base. And she's now created a far more powerful political base, which is located basically with San Francisco as the epicenter. And she is the very definition of what would be culturally and politically described as a San Francisco Democrat.
San Francisco's become geographically synonymous with the moral and cultural left in the United States, and that's right where Nancy Pelosi belongs. But she's not the far left fringe of her party, which means that given the fact that her party has been moving so far to the left, she, like so many others, including Joe Biden, have had to find themselves moving further and further to the left. That's also true just in terms of Nancy Pelosi holding her own seat in the liberal enclave of San Francisco, California. But again, she's 80.
The second ranking Democrat in the house is Steny Hoyer, a Congressman from Maryland. He was actually born a year earlier. He's 81. He is now the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, likely to be so again.
The third ranking Democrat in the leadership in the house is James Clyburn, Democratic representative of South Carolina. He was born the same year as Nancy Pelosi. So you're looking at 80, 80, and 81 in the leadership of a party that is growing increasingly younger.
Now, one of the very interesting things is that once the Democrats regained the majority in the House after the 2018 midterm elections, Nancy Pelosi, in order to hold on to her role as the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives had to basically promise the members of her own caucus, back about two years ago, that she wasn't going to try to hold onto the office indefinitely. Now, anyone who's been around politics for any number of years knows that the response to that has to be, I'll believe it when I see it. Well, you're not likely to see it in January with the seating of the 217th Congress, because Nancy Pelosi won that voice vote, giving herself leadership of her caucus. That doesn't, as I said, automatically give her the speakership, but it's the next thing to it.
But what does that mean? What do we need to consider? Well, that constitutional office, the Speaker of the House, is indeed an office. It's right there in the Constitution. It's not something that is just a matter of the decision of the House in electing his own leadership. And we need to also remember that the Speaker of the House is right now in a very close succession to the American Presidency. Should the office of President become vacant due to the death or resignation of the President, the vice president of the United States would succeed the President. And if there needs to be another succession, that succession would be the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Thus, this is not, to say the very least, an inconsequential office.
Furthermore, when you look at the role of Speaker of the House, the Speaker has enormous authority, largely unilateral authority at the end of the day, about what legislation goes to the floor of the House and what legislation never gets there at all.
One of the interesting developments in the House in recent decades is the so-called Hastert Rule that goes back to a Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who put in place a rule that said that he would not bring to the floor of the House of Representatives not only any bill that lacked, say, Republican support or the support of his own party, but any bill that was not assured of a Republican majority large enough to pass.
Now that actually ended up accomplishing two things, or at least resulting in two things. One was the net reduction in the actual number of bills that ever hit the floor of the House. And secondly, the fact that once legislation gets there, if the Speaker allows it to get there, it is almost assured a passage by the Speaker's own party.
But as we're thinking about this, we also need to recognize that the most frustrated people, when it comes to the election of the Speaker of the House, if that's Nancy Pelosi, as we expect, most frustrated people are going to be those in the Democratic left, to her left, because they are pressing for more radical action than Nancy Pelosi is likely to be able to deliver.
And again, if you're just thinking about political change in this country, you're now looking at the fact that Nancy Pelosi, the stereotypical San Francisco Democrat, is now being outflanked by her left. So much so that major media are reporting that she basically had to say to the Progressives, as they're known in her party, that if she were to be elected Speaker for the 217th Congress, that would be the conclusion of her tenure in that role.
Now keep in mind also that Nancy Pelosi, the first woman ever to be the Speaker of the House, really has had three different terms as Speaker of the House. That's a rather remarkable political staying power in the first place, because it's one thing to lead your party when you are victorious. It's another thing to hold onto the leadership of your party when you have just suffered a loss.
But if it is true, as reported, that Nancy Pelosi had to pledge that if elected this time, she would not run for the Speaker's role again, that tells you that members of her own party are getting quite demonstrably restless. But the other thing they're going to have to face is that Nancy Pelosi and those to her left are actually the reason why moderate Democrats lost their seats, which adds up to endangering the very Democratic majority that Nancy Pelosi is now supposed to preside over.
And one final thought on this issue, that means that you've got a lot of younger Democrats, and it doesn't take much to get younger Democrats in this case, who are actually lining up to challenge each other for the Speaker's role two years from now, if the Democrats hold the majority. But that's now an open question.
The ‘Usual Backup Plan?’ Mom. But Is it More Than Chauvinism We See?
But next, as the week comes to an end, let's consider some issues of deep biblical and worldview significance that we see rather confused in the world around us. One has to do with the headline that appeared on the front page of Wednesday's edition of the New York Times. Here's the headline. "Recession's Toll on Women Points to a Lasting Setback." The subhead, "After Losing Jobs to Pandemic, Many Face Limited Prospects and Earnings." Patricia Cohen's the reporter in this article, and what she offers is documentation and analysis, demonstrating that in the COVID-19 recession and pandemic context, it turns out that women, when it comes to the workplace, have suffered disproportionately to men.
And this turned out to be something of a surprise, because as you're looking at a recession in recent recessionary cycles, as you're looking at employment cycles, women have actually fared better than men in many of these cycles. So much so that in the last jobs recession, it was sometimes referred to as a he-cession rather than a recession, because the impact on joblessness was disproportionately weighted against men, so many of the jobs traditionally held by men were exactly the jobs that were endangered or had disappeared. But in the case of the COVID-19 recession, it turns out that the opposite is taking place.
Now, as you're looking at this article in the New York Times, the assumption is that the default position we should understand is that there is no basic distinction between men and women. There's no basic division of roles, at all, between men and women. And thus, if there is a disproportionate impact, it must reflect some injustice or unfairness. Now just understand that's the worldview that is implicit. Indeed, you might say even explicit in this article.
But we, as Christians looking at this, have to recognize that what we're being told here has a much deeper meaning than even anything economists can fathom. Just consider this paragraph. "Inequality in the home, in terms of household and childcare responsibilities, influences equality in the workplace." Another paragraph tells us that one of the blows suffered by women in this recession has been the fact that it has included "the closing of childcare centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled," we're told, "working mothers much more than fathers with overwhelming household responsibilities."
Allow me to say, I do not doubt that that is true. I don't doubt for a moment that women are feeling a disproportionate impact when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't doubt for a moment, I see it with my own eyes in my own home, that you're looking at moms and wives who are bearing a disproportionate share, because so much of what has happened, what's fallen on families, has fallen primarily upon wives and especially upon mothers. That's a point that is made in this article.
But from a Christian worldview perspective, we have to look at this and ask, could it have been otherwise? Could it have been otherwise? Is the fact that there is this imbalance, is that just a reflection of injustice and prejudice and male patriarchy in the world? Or is there something deeper here?
Well, as you look at this report and several others, including another major article that appeared in the very same day's New York Times, the fact is that as you are looking at this, well, the second article headline by Claire Cain Miller was this. "When Schools Closed, Families Turned to the Usual Backup Plan: Mothers." This article, if anything, turns out to be even more interesting because it doesn't just look at the United States. It looks at other nations. And very tellingly, it points to the fact that even in other nations, which are considered to be far more egalitarian than the United States, looking at a further distinction of any difference between the genders, you're looking at societies that are openly feminist. You're looking, for instance, at Scandinavia, at countries such as Denmark. It turns out that even in those nations, in the context of COVID-19, wives and moms are bearing a disproportionate share of the increased labor that has come in the course of the pandemic.
There's also the acknowledgement in this that men, and we're talking here about husbands and fathers for the most part, have also had to shoulder a vastly increased responsibility, but much of that is in the workplace. And furthermore, in the context of COVID-19, husbands and wives, both of whom in many cases had been in the workplace, are having to decide which job is actually more important for us to keep, which is the one that's going to have to go or be cut back, whose professional future is going to have to be the priority, and whose, thus, will not? Who do the children need? What kind of division of labor will take place in the home?
But here's where Christians need to recognize something. When we look at this article by Claire Cain Miller, it points to something we believe is actually in the order of creation and is not evidence of oppression or patriarchy, but rather is evidence of God's plan. And that is that in the home, there is a division of labor and authority. Does this mean that husbands should never knew the dishes and domestic chores? Of course not. Does this mean that fathers are not to be actively and totally invested in the raising of their own children? No, it does not. But what it does mean is that in any society, it turns out not only the United States, but look at Denmark, look at Scandinavia. It turns out that in any society, there are roles that are actually only faithfully and functionally fulfilled by women. That is the natural default, or as this headline says, the usual backup plan is mothers.
Now I will tell you right now, speaking as a man who was a son and is a husband and is a father and a grandfather, I don't think there is a single, honest man, a single, honest male. You can talk to a boy, if he's able to talk, he's going to understand that there are things that mom does far better than dad. There are some things that mom can do that dad can't do it all. And there are also things that dad can do that mom can't do. And there are things that dad will do better than mom can do. And that's why boys and girls need fathers and mothers. That's a part of God's creation order as well.
But the interesting thing here is for us to recognize that in a fallen world, we as Christians who affirm the creation order can get some of these things messed up. Yes, husbands can be lazy and unfaithful in their tasks, and well, mothers can too. But in most households, it is less likely that mom will be because if she is, everything implodes.
It's very interesting to look at this article, the one by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times, and find a paragraph like this. "Mothers are the fallback plan in the United States, in part because of persistent beliefs that they are ultimately responsible for homemaking and child-rearing, and because of the lack of policies to help parents manage the load." And then the article goes on to say, other countries have social safety nets, but as we've just seen the same article says that the same pattern turns up in Scandinavia, even with the social safety net.
We then read this. "Even so, attitudes and policies in the United States had been slowly evolving. Men were handling more childcare, for example, and paid family leave was becoming more common. Now that the pandemic has forced a generation of mothers into the fallback role," says the paper, "it's unclear how much of that change will continue." Well, this is a part of an ongoing saga in this culture. We're being told, over and over again, that from time to time, given recession, given some cultural pressure, given the unbelievable context of this pandemic, that there is a reset that simply has to be overcome. There's an evolution. The word here used in this news article was that attitudes were evolving, and notice that evolution implies progress in their view. There is a reset, and this just means that here we are, once again, looking at a reset.
But we, as Christians, have to look at this and ask, is this just something of an economic or sociological reset, or is this actually pointing to something more fundamental, more real, even a part of God's glory, even a part of creation order?
A Fundamental Testimony of God’s Design for the Family: Study Shows Teenagers Have Benefitted from Family Relationships During Pandemic
But as we're thinking about this, by the way, in the context of the pandemic, there's something else that shows forth. And that is, again, God's intention in the family. God's intention with the family, as a mother and a father and their children in the home. It turns out that the family is not just a sociological institution with social and moral benefits. It turns out that it's absolutely essential to civilization. And it turns out that sometimes in the midst of a cultural crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, there are strange testimonies to this fact.
Here's one, a headline in the Wall Street Journal. "Lockdowns have a Bright Side for Teens." Meaning, of course, teenagers. Now what would be the bright side of the lockdown for teenagers in the United States? Well, the subhead in the article makes clear. "They're Talking more to Parents and Getting more Sleep, Reducing Levels of Depression." Now here's something really interesting. The article actually includes far more than just that subhead would indicate.
We're talking about a study that was reported here. It was undertaken by the Institute for Family Studies. Erica Komisar is writing the article. She says, "The study released in October found that 56% of us high school students that were surveyed between May and July reported talking to parents more during the quarantine than before. 54% said their families have dinner more often than before. 46% reported spending more time with their siblings. 68% said their families have become closer during the pandemic."
It turns out the closing down some options meant that families actually had each other. And it turns out that that, even in the study reported in the Wall Street Journal has, to use the language of the article, good psychological benefits for teenagers, benefits that are translated into reductions in depression.
And also one of the things that becomes very clear here is that these teenagers, who have been locked down in the midst of all of this, who are often now studying at home rather than at school, are cut off from their friends, at least cut off from the actual in the room contact with their friends, it turns out that having more conversation with their parents is something they like. It turns out that having more time with their siblings is something that they like. It turns out that having more sleep is something that they like and something that is very good for them.
The article points to the pubertal changes that come with a change in the circadian rhythm that makes teenagers have a natural tendency to stay up later and thus to sleep later. It turns out that with homeschooling and a change in schedule, some of that has been accommodated by understanding parents. And it turns out that teenagers are responding with lowered levels of depression. You need some good news? How about that for good news?
But notice that you're also looking at a fundamental testimony here to God's intention in the family. God's design for the family turns out to be not only advantageous, but absolutely important, urgent, essential for his glory and for our good.
So as we're thinking about all the challenges that come to us in the midst of this pandemic, let's not miss two things. Number one, there are also some recoveries that are visible before our eyes. And looking here at teenagers, for example, families as beneficiaries of that closeness, but also look at something else. There is a deeper testimony here than to something that is sociological, economic, or psychological. It's theological. And we as Christians need to understand how and why.
Where Are You Going to Find ‘Help’ in a Time of Stress? Many Americans Turn to Marijuana Edibles. Even Grandma?
But then finally for this week on The Briefing, coming full circle, how's this for a headline for you? This also from the New York Times, tied to the election. "Pass the Edibles." The subhead, "Cannabis-based Goodies for every Type of Anxiety See a Surge in Sales." Now the reporter here is Sheera Frankel. And in the context, not only of COVID-19 and increased shutdowns, but in the context of the Presidential election, the argument here is that Americans have turned to cannabis, to edible forms of cannabis, in untold numbers.
The report Dateline from Oakland, California begins, "In the weeks leading up to November, Iashia Kilian felt her anxiety deepen. She knew her vote in Michigan, a swing state, could help decide who the next president would be. She had done everything she could to help campaign for her candidate of choice. Now all could do is sit back, wait, and make sure she had her favorite marijuana edibles at hand." She said, and I quote, "The panic, the anxious feelings, it has been all too much. I knew I was only going to get through it with some help. I used to be the kind of person who would judge someone, especially a mother like me, taking edibles. But you know what? Everything happening in this country is just too much. That people need some help."
Now, interestingly, back in the 1960s and '70s, there was the stereotype of at least some rather wealthy suburban metropolitan housewives who depended upon little pills they called "Mommy's Little Helpers." They were barbiturates or tranquilizers, but it turns out that the little helpers that used to be pills are now increasingly brownies or candies or other forms of marijuana edibles. What I'm looking at here is the fact that it tells us something about our culture, two things in particular.
One is that you're looking at the main lining the normalization of marijuana to the extent that it just makes sense to people to say, "Hey, we're talking about a tough time. We need a little help." The second thing is this. You're looking at people just assume that any pressure like this just means, hey, we all need a little help. You need your little help from a pill bottle. That person needs a little help from an alcohol bottle. This person over here needs a little help from a cannabis brownie. We all need a little help. That's the message.
Well, the fact is that under pressure, human beings know they need more help, but where are you going to find help? Where is help in a time of need? What kind of help are you depending on? It's a very sad commentary on the United States that chemicals or substances become the right-hand help for so many people who find themselves under stress. A bottle here, a bottle there, a brownie over there.
One paragraph in this article says, "For many people across the United States, help came in the form of gummy bears, cookies, chocolates, and gel capsules, all infused with a dose of cannabis, calibrated to sooth election day jitters. While nationwide sales information is hard to come by," says the New York Times, "companies that specialize in edibles said sales soared in the weeks leading up to the election."
In one of the stranger moral statements of our time, Coco Meers, identified as co-founder and chief executive of Equilibria, a woman focused company in Chicago that specializes in CBD, a hemp derived compound, said, "There was the pandemic, and then the summer with all the social justice issue, it's now the election stress. It has been nonstop, and it has led to extraordinary demand of cannabis." Coco Meers, that is the co-founder of Equilibria, also said, "We are seeing grandmothers who never thought they would be open-minded cannabis, calling us." So now even Granny's reaching for the weed.
There's another moral insight that is embedded in this article, and that is that there are Americans who would not smoke marijuana because, after all, that would be smoking a drug, they're nonetheless excusing edibles because it's food. One person quoted in the article said, "Food as a concept is so much less scary than smoking. It feels easier and something that can be part of your routine. If it can taste great and also help calm down your anxiety, it's a win-win." But even the article mentioned the fact that it's not always a win-win. There are documented dangerous to the use of cannabis, especially when it comes to the minds, the brains of younger people.
But the other point that is underlined in this article is that medical professionals are concerned about this because people tend to miscalculate the impact of edibles. And given the delay in the effect, there are people who just keep eating, and thus, they find themselves with far more cannabis in the system than they would otherwise expect.
Finally, one other moral statement that tells us a lot about our age. One person is quoted who said, "It's too tense, and there's too much going on, and people need to practice self care." Once again, the Christian worldview just jumps out at us to say, there really isn't much good, lasting good. There isn't going to be any real peace there. Isn't going to be any real health that is ever going to come from self care. But a society that is absolutely obsessed with the self is going to assume that the only way to happiness is through self care. But in this case, of course, there's at least the acknowledgement it's self care, along with some little helpers.
That also points out just one other thing maybe we need to keep in mind. The next time Granny offers you a gummy bear, you better think twice.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find 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.