Tuesday, October 5, 2021
It's Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What’s Really at Stake in the Democratic Party Battle Over Spending? It’s a Lot More Than You Might Think
It has reached a point that we really need to discuss what Democrats in Washington are discussing. And I say that carefully, Democrats are discussing, because as you're looking at the two rival or perhaps complementary massive spending bills, one labeled infrastructure, the other now labeled the Build Back Better Bill, the reality is that this is what we would call an intramural debate among Democrats. That's the nice way to put it. The other way to put it is this, the Democrats are just about at the point of going to civil war over the issue of how much money, how many trillions of dollars the United States government will spend over the next several years in an expansive march of federal programs and the reach of the federal government. But what we're looking at here are two rival visions within one political party. And there are massive worldview issues that are invoked here.
Let's just consider we're talking about massive increases in federal spending. We're talking about two different bills. One bill is what President Biden had been pushing for by his definition of bipartisan bill. There are at least some Republicans who are going to vote for this package that amounts to just over $1 trillion, that's trillion with a "T." And in that case, we're talking about rather traditional infrastructure. Now, in America's political vocabulary, when you use the word infrastructure, generally, you're talking about the internal and physical manifestations of our national structure, what makes the government work, what makes the economy work, what is necessary for us to have the kind of society civilization we want including, say, a system of roads, not just the interstate highway but a system of safe and well-constructed roads, bridges, aqueducts, all kinds of things from tunnels and power stations, all the way down to things such as the high-tech and digital infrastructure that we take nearly for granted just about every day.
A wake up call on that yesterday as you well know. There is bipartisan agreement that there is an infrastructure crisis in the United States. The reasons for this are many. For one thing, you're looking at the same development in a country such as Germany. And you're looking at Germany being the very society, the culture that gave birth to the Autobahn, the idea of the modern automotive highway. But even as the economists has reported just in recent days, Germany's infrastructure is increasingly a mess. There's a political reason behind the fact that infrastructure spending gets left behind over and over again. And it comes down to this, even though Americans say they want it, you have very little political gain usually in most political seasons for politicians to spend money on infrastructure when there are shiny political objects they would rather spend their money on.
Another issue has to do with the complication. In this case, it's a very important, very vital constitutional issue, that's the separation of responsibilities even when it comes to infrastructure between the federal government, state governments, and local governments. In all likelihood, your county or parish if you are in Louisiana has a roads department. Your state certainly has a road or transportation department, so also for the United States. That's just about roads and that doesn't even cover the complexity. Who's responsible for this road? Who's responsible for that sign? Who's responsible for that overpass or that bridge? The reality is, we are looking at a necessity of investing in our infrastructure. And generally across the board, bipartisan, liberals, and conservatives, there's agreement that infrastructure is necessary if we're going to have a functioning economy or if we're going to be able safely to cross a river or a bay. You're looking at the reality that infrastructure is absolutely necessary the way that a functioning skeletal system is absolutely necessary to a human body.
But then again, you don't often think about your skeleton until you have to. But when you have to, you really have to. But even as there is generally a very significant bipartisan agreement on the necessity of investing in roads, and bridges, and infrastructure, the reality is that those bills are highly political, they always are, which projects get approved, which states get what percentage of money, which cities get the bridges they need. And of course, you're looking at other issues. Early in the American experiment, infrastructure bills, that's what we call them now, they wouldn't have called it that then, say, bills for public works, they were often complicated by political patronage. Whatever party was in power, the businesses allied with that party tended to get the contracts. You understand the financial complications there. In a fallen world, they are many. Patronage was a big issue.
But now, we're looking at a lot more than patronage. We're looking at political payoffs. Now, you might say that's rough language but it's exactly true. You have the payoffs here and in many cases, they're going to labor unions, they are going to other interests. When you're looking at the infrastructure bill that the Biden administration says it is worked out in a bipartisan manner with at least enough Republicans to get the measure through the Senate, the reality is that this more than trillion dollars of spending is laden with all kinds of things including impact for the so-called Green New Deal, climate change, other issues and even in terms of the politically protected issues more than we could possibly discuss in the span of this program.
But when it comes to the second bill, the far more massive bill, well, as you might expect, the history of that particular proposal is even more interesting. Back when Joe Biden gained the Democratic nomination for president, he did so running as a moderate. Now, whether that was true or false given his past, it certainly turned out not to be true in terms of how he has governed. The left-wing of the Democratic Party is in the ascendancy, the progressives, as they style themselves, are pushing hard to the left and they're pushing fast. They're pushing powerfully. And make no mistake, they really are in control. In order to get elected, Joe Biden had to be sold to the American people as a moderate. But he also, in order to keep the attention and to increase the activism of the left had to actually govern as a member of the progressive wing.
And that's what he's done and that became exceedingly clear just in the last, say, 72 hours or so, especially over the last weekend. Joe Biden had to make a choice. And as The New York Times made very clear, he chose the left. Axios similarly made very clear it is the left that is ascended and it is Biden who was now following their lead, not Congress following the president's lead. Now, the Democrats in leadership are going to talk as if this is Joe Biden's bill and, of course, the president is behind it. But he's behind it because of who's behind him. The Democrats have known all along that this massive spending, far more massive for that matter than 1.2 or 1.5 trillion, you're looking at 3.5 trillion, and that's only just 3.5 trillion because there have been some rather clever accounting tricks such as the fact that some of the programs are timed out in 2025. Trust me, they don't end in 2025 and no one intends them to.
You also have Senator Bernie Sanders saying that the minimum spending should be $6 trillion. Now, here's something to keep in mind. By the time the United States got to the Second World War, it was becoming accustomed to a massive level of federal spending. In some cases, you could look at single years amounting to more than most previous years of American history all rolled together in terms of federal spending. Some of that would go back to World War I, massive expansions of the federal government in Europe and also as we know in the United States in what was then called a Progressivist Era. But those progressives pale over against the Progressives currently in the driver's seat of the Democratic Party. Those progressives now know that they have a Democratic president packaged as a moderate who will actually do their bidding.
And as we said just over the weekend, the president had to make a choice between the so-called moderates in his party and those on the left. He sided with the left throwing overboard some who had been his colleagues and his political allies for a matter of decades. But the Democrats, as I said, knew that they would have to get this particular legislation through entirely on Democratic votes. Now, how could they do that? Well, they have a very slim majority in the United States House of Representatives. And Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, has enormous manipulative power in the House to make certain that she doesn't lose that vote. There's got to be a lot of horse trading, there's already been a lot of horse trading. But at least in theory, she should be able to deliver that vote.
In the Senate you say, "Well, they're only 50 Democrats, how can they get to the 60 votes needed to eliminate the filibuster?" Well, they're not going to do that. It is because they're going to move this bill through under the process known as reconciliation in the Senate. That means reconciling the budget. Basically, it just means cutting past the filibuster so that just with 50 votes plus one or at least a majority vote in the Senate without the necessity of the 60-vote limitation, this can go forward. But that also means that the Senate parliamentarian gets to say what is germane and what is not. And just in recent days, the Senate parliamentarian, for example, told the left-wing of the Democratic Party that it could not put in immigration reform in a budget bill. So, at least there are some limits.
But the limits we should note are not really about money, and even though the money's a big deal here, it is not the most fundamental issue at stake. It is really important that we understand that. It's even more important we understand what is really at stake. What is at stake is actually nothing less than a restructuring, a transformation of American culture driven by the American government. What you're looking at here is the fact that so many of the hopes and dreams of the Democratic left are now coming to realization in this bill. Now, what are we talking about? We're talking about what the president had tried to call infrastructure but we're certainly not talking about roads, bridges, and train tracks here, we're talking about massive social expenditures. We're talking about a massive expansion of the welfare state, we're talking about massive growth in federal, spending for social programs and so-called entitlements.
But it's not just that. It's not just the fact that the president and the Democratic Party are promising through this massive bill free community college tuition for all American young people, promising childcare, eldercare, promising a vast expansion of federal spending on medicine, talking about incredible spending on such things as education, universal precare, childcare, but it would not only be government funded childcare. Just keep this in mind, whatever the government pays for, the government eventually controls. And so, you're looking at a redefinition of what is the normative expectation of Americans, and of American couples, and American families thinking about how they will orchestrate and manage their own lives, how they're going to manage their own finances.
But here's what the Democratic Party's left-wing is absolutely counting on. Once the federal government expands, once the welfare state is enlarged, it is virtually impossible to shrink it. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes was right back during the Enlightenment, a government that continues to expand like this is Leviathan. It becomes a Leviathan state. And yet, these are the hopes and dreams of many in the Democratic Party. At least one of the distinctions in the modern age between the Democratic and Republican parties, that is to say also between political liberals and conservatives, is that conservatives have understood that the experiment of ordered liberty that the United States has undertaken central to our self-identity, is threatened not only by despots afar but also by an unconstrained government at home.
Furthermore, conservatives have understood that what the government pays for, the government encourages. In other words, if the government pays for not working, people stop working. If the government incentivizes bad behavior, bad behavior follows and the government's paying for it. Or you can think of it another way. Even as you look at this bill, it really is an effort to get more and more of the middle class used to taking checks from the federal government. Now, let's understand something. The big money in taxation is going to come from the middle class. But here's something that the federal government learned in the experiment of social security. The federal government learned that middle class Americans will pay higher taxes, taxes far beyond whatever benefits they may receive if they actually get that tangible check back from the government. It's not a good deal economically.
The social security system, by the way, is not or at least was not planned according to that kind of pattern. It was planned that people in the middle class would pay more than they would ever receive because they would be subsidizing the needs of others in the Social Security program, and also the federal government would just continue to spend even as the economy expands and inflation would raise its called indexing, the amount needed and the amount dispersed through social security. The point is this, Democrats learned, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the Democratic president largely behind this, Democrats learned that if everybody started getting checks, everyone would support the program even if citizens in the middle class didn't pause to think, "Now, wait just a minute. I'm actually getting back far less than I paid or far less than I would have received if I had invested those funds in some kind of secure investment on my own."
But Social Security was put together as a federal program all in, in that respect. But the point is, the logic is exactly what the Democratic Party is counting on. Counting on the middle class to get used to checks for childcare, checks for college tuition, checks for all kinds of things without recognizing that two things are happening. Well, indeed let's say three things are happening. For one thing, economically, the bills just aren't going to get paid. The federal government's going to be spending far more than it takes in and that means, secondly, all of this will eventually be formed into the bills that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to pay. We are borrowing from the future.
Christians understand the morality of debt and we understand that the worst form of immorality in debt is assuming debt that we know we can't pay, that we will expect someone else to pay. But the third big development here is going to be the massive growth of the federal government in terms of power, in terms of intrusion right into the lives of American families. Because, don't miss this, if the federal government is involved in subsidizing or paying for childcare and is talking about doing so even up to the level of couples or families earning about $100,000, even if the federal government is involved in spending, you can count on the fact it is going to be involved in running the program. And make no mistake, you say, "Well, there are private childcare programs." Yes, but if the federal government spending is involved, it will become regulated by the federal government.
Just consider all the issues of federal regulation that Christians need to be extremely concerned about. Just consider the inevitable intrusions into private life, even into private morality. Just consider the tenuous situation of Christian colleges and universities when federal funding is involved. Just consider the fact that so many of these institutions are going to be presented with the choice because of federal funding, either you get in line with the LGBTQ revolution or you go broke. Now, just translate that from the Christian college campus to your local Christian childcare program. The same logic is going to pertain, the same threat is going to be ever present. And it's not just a threat, count on this, it will be a reality.
“Biden Throws in With the Left” — What’s the Vision Behind the “Progressives” Now in the Democratic Party Driver’s Seat?
The editors of The Wall Street Journal get the issue exactly right when they state that this is not just a government spending plan, it is a government family plan. And if any three words should scare you as Christians, they should be the words government family plan put together in that series. But in the political dynamic, it's not just an ideological cleavage in the Democratic Party with the left very much in control, it is also a political drama that's being played up before our eyes. Just consider the fact that last week, that's right, last week, Speaker Pelosi said this, "Let me just say we're going to pass the bill this week." Well, she might've said it but it didn't happen. As a matter of fact, it didn't happen last week, it probably won't happen this week.
And that was basically acknowledged by none other than President Biden when he went to Capitol Hill to meet with Democratic congressional leaders, and basically, as I said, had to make a choice between the moderates who want that smaller spending bill to go ahead and be passed as a win and the Liberals who understand the far left that if that smaller infrastructure bill passes, they're not likely to get the $3.5 trillion bill at all, perhaps ever. They don't want to go into the 2022 midterm elections without that big win. They also understand that they have very, very thin majorities in the House and in the Senate and if they don't act now, they may not get another chance like this in a generation. But President Biden's at the center of this because it's President Biden who evidently has decided that he wants to be a transformational president. He sees himself like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and like Lyndon Baines Johnson. What made those two Democratic presidents famous in this respect? They were vast spenders of federal money. Each of them oversaw a vast expansion of the federal government.
There's a bit of democratic soap opera behind this. Barack Obama was never a spender on this scale and many of the Democratic Left will never forgive him for it. Joe Biden, as president of the United States, now sees what he believes is the opportunity in effect to carve his own face on Mount Rushmore, at least in the Democratic Party's memory. But here's what Christians have to think very, very carefully. Our responsibility is to love our neighbor. Christ told us that. How do we love our neighbor? Well, at least one of the most important ways we love our neighbor is in seeking to construct, to nurture, and to develop a society that calls out the virtues, that leads to an illumination of the centrality of family and marriage, that unleashes human potential, that links work and reward, that links investment and future success, that helps people out of poverty not by just handing them a check but by giving them skills and making them a functioning part of the society, not just as individuals, but also as families.
But if you look at the war on poverty undertaken by Lyndon Baines Johnson, you come to understand that even as trillions and trillions of dollars have been spent, arguably, poverty is a bigger problem now than it was then, at least by many federal government definitions. The point is this, government has a role, but when you're looking at the vast expansion, not only of government money but of government reach in the Build Back Better Bill, what you're actually looking at is an attempt to redefine our society. Understand that. We have to understand what is at stake. And in this redefinition, the big winner is actually the government itself. That's another basic principle that we've come to understand. When the money is concerned, whatever the program is called, the winner eventually will be the government and those who run those programs.
Banned Books Week, the Battle of Ideas — Normalizing the LGBTQ Revolution is the Aim
But next, as we're thinking about how our society transforms morally, I want us to consider that last week was identified as Banned Books Week in the United States, a program undertaken by organizations including the American Library Association overseen in large part by its Office for Intellectual Freedom. But here's what I want us to note. There really are no banned books in the United States in the sense that the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom wants to tell you. There are some books that are effectively banned in the United States, but they're not the books that the ALA is concerned about. For years now, and this commemoration's now about 40 years old, for years now, the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, so many different groups have come together to say, "Look, there are efforts to try to censure what Americans read." There are people, evil agents, who are trying to prevent children and teenagers from reading certain books. Those evil agents are otherwise known, by the way, as parents.
A few years ago, I actually had a student take pictures of me standing in front of a Banned Books Week display in a local major national bookstore. Now, here's the point. If you are putting the books out on a special table for Banned Books Week, let me tell you what they're not, they're not banned. And of course, even as you're looking at this, you're looking at the fact that, for instance, parents complained about a book with transgender themes, of course, this is the same group that defends Drag Queen Story Hour at your local public library, you're looking at the far left being in control of so many of these professions and they're using these professions as a way to hammer through the moral revolution, and in this case, the LGBTQ revolution. Not just some of it, all of it. And not just all of it, but all of it where it's headed.
Talking about banning books, USA Today's report on Banned Books Week says, "What happens when a book is challenged in school boards and public libraries? Titles can be removed from school curriculum or library shelves." Now, you'll notice that is presented as if that is a disaster. But let's be clear. There are books no parent listening to the program today would possibly want their children or teenagers to read much less to be assigned. And you're not wrong to have that concern, you're absolutely right. But as you're looking at the list of the books that they claim have been banned, it turns out not a single one of them has actually been banned. Some of them had been complained about there have been challenges to them in curriculum and in public libraries.
But in the main, this has become an advertising vehicle for the book business and in particular for the left-wing of the book business. But as Thomas Spence writes for The Wall Street Journal in recent days, "Banned Books Week isn't," he says, "actually interested in banned books." Because there are at least a couple of books that really are in danger right now of being banned, but they're not on the left, they're on the right. They're written by Conservatives. One of them is written by Abigail Shrier. Her book is entitled Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. It's a very important work. Another work that really has been banned on Amazon is Ryan Anderson's book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. It is a very solid work that presents an extremely credible, academically documented, extremely thoughtful reflection upon God's gift of gender and what that means as we face the challenge of the transgender moment.
I did a Thinking in Public program in conversation with Ryan Anderson, by the way, and you can find that at my website. But the point is this, Thomas Spence is writing as a publisher to say, "There really are books that are in danger of being banned because these days, given the reach of amazon.com, if you are banned from Amazon, you are banned from a lot of site and a lot of the market when it comes to the book business in the United States." Abigail Shrier, her book had been sent out, by the way, in a program by which independent booksellers were to be introduced to books but there actually then came an apology and that apology indicates the total capitulation of the American Booksellers Association to this kind of agenda. A person who had received the book as just a way of introducing the title went to Twitter, and thus Spence tells us, rebuked the ABA for hurting her feelings. She said, "I'm seething."
Then Spence says, "Within hours, the ABA had apologized to its member stores for what it described as 'a serious violent incident' and declared that sharing this title with booksellers was inexcusable." That sounds like one of the forced confessions that you saw amongst prisoners of war in North Korea or in North Vietnam. By now, no doubt, you're accustomed to seeing advertising for Banned Books Week in the United States. Just understand what we're dealing with and understand it's about a lot more than books. It starts with books but it's really about ideas, and it's the ideas that are in danger of being banned.
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 tomorrow for The Briefing.