The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, November 8, 2021

It’s Monday, November 8th, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

House Passes 1.2 Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Bill: Where The Money Goes, The Worldview Issues Follow

Well, President Biden finally got his infrastructure bill through his own party in the United States House of Representatives. Now, the bill that was passed back in August by the Senate now finally passed late on Friday night, just shortly before midnight on Friday night. That bill now goes to the White House for President Biden’s signature.

President Biden is touting this as a great achievement, and it comes just days after the shellacking that his party received last Tuesday on Election Day. But this bill is big in political terms. It’s big in economic terms, and it’s also a form of political soap opera, big worldview implications we need to think about. This bill is important, mostly seen as part of a larger series of bills. First of all, you have two massive stimulus bills, as they were called, and they were billed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, the first of them quite understandable given the shutdown of the economy in the early months of COVID-19.

That stimulus bill came during the Trump administration. But shortly after taking office, President Biden pushed through another so-called stimulus bill, again, massive federal spending, but he announced, and this was contrary to the persona that he presented to the public during the campaign, he announced that he intends to be a transformative president. And by the time he was just a few weeks into office, he was talking about using the power of the presidency and incredibly thin majorities in the House and Senate to push through legislation that would, in his own words, “change the way Americans live.” Now, arguably, this is a very important point, Americans did not elect him to change the way that they live. They elected him to lead to some kind of bipartisan consensus on certain issues of national policy. Whether that was realistic or not, the fact is that was the brand behind his candidacy, and it was a winning candidacy.

And yet, since he has been in office, President Biden has veered far to the left, following the pressure and the trajectory of the ascendant left wing of his party. And furthermore, he’s begun to talk about seeing himself as the next in line from the big-spending Democrats of the 20th century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Again, that’s not the way he talked when he was running either for the democratic nomination, remember he ran against candidates making those proposals, saying that the proposals were reckless, but once he’s in office, he clearly sees himself in an historic role. He’s defining that historical role as being the initiator of massive spending bills. And it’s not just about the money. Now, it is about the money, but it’s not just about the money.

It is about changing the way Americans live, and that’s where the worldview implications become explosive, absolutely massive. But let’s look at the infrastructure bill, and by the way, it is presented as a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Now, as we’re going to see, the most important function of that bill right now politically is a) to give President Biden and the Democrats, that do have slim majorities in the House and the Senate, something to point to as a legislative achievement. The second thing, and this is probably more important, it tees up that massive social-spending bill that President Biden, by the way, initially tried to call infrastructure, but by now even members of his own party are unwilling to try to keep up that charade. Instead, there is the admission, indeed the bragging coming from so many in the Democratic Party that this is a bill that will transform American life, and not just public life but private life.

This is a bill that when it comes to childcare, early childhood education, and any number of other federal spending programs, they will invade the life of American families and indeed redefine American family life. As we’re going to see in days and weeks ahead, one of the major concerns about that bill is the fact that it will claim even more time and terrain when it comes to American childhood under the umbrella of federal control, if not outright federal programming, but let’s hold that for a moment. Let’s look at the infrastructure bill more closely.

Now, it’s often referred to as the trillion-dollar bill, actually it’s $1.2 trillion. That’s what President Biden’s going to say. When he holds the white house signing ceremony, you can count on the fact that he’s going to have some major bipartisan congressional representation in the picture. That’s a part of the mythology about this bill. It’s a part of the public branding of the bill, and let’s face it, the bill could not have passed without at least some level of bipartisan support. A certain number of senators had to vote for the bill, Republican senators back in August, and a certain number of Republican members of Congress had to vote for the bill just a matter of late on Friday night.

But there’s also a bit of inside baseball here, inside Washington baseball, because even as it will be billed as a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, only about a little less than half of that is actual new spending. In other words, the majority of the dollars that are going to be counted in this bipartisan achievement would’ve been part of any comprehensive federal spending bill even without this particular initiative.

The new spending is $550 billion. Now that’s nothing to sneeze at. That means 550 thousand million dollars. That’s what $550 billion in new spending amounts to. Where’s it going to go? And again, the number’s going to be 1.2 old spending plan plus new spending plan. About $110 billion for roads and bridges, about $66 billion for railroads, about $65 billion for the power grid, another $65 billion for the expansion of broadband, about $55 billion for water, especially replacing lead pipes, about $47 billion for what is known as resilience.

Now, that funding for resilience is defined as “funding to help protect infrastructure from attacks, along with funding to address droughts, flooding, wildfire mitigation, coastal erosion, and other big issues impacting many parts of the nation as weather patterns become more extreme.” That from Sunday’s edition to the Washington Post as a summary; that tells you something of what’s included in this, plus $39 billion for public transit, another $25 billion for airports, $21 billion for remediation, that is environmental cleanup, $17 billion for ports, Americans understand right now the need for ports and functioning ports with such a supply-chain disruption, then $11 billion for safety, $8 billion for “western water infrastructure.” That means water in Western states. $7.5 billion, now let’s think about this for a moment. Listen again, $7.5 billion, that’s 7.5 thousand million dollars, for what’s defined as electric-vehicle charging stations. Now, remember that means that the federal government paying for charging stations. That’s the equivalent of the federal government paying for gas pumps, which the federal government does not pay for. So that tells you about a federal extension of power, and that’s in a literal sense here.

And then we have $7.5 billion for electric school buses and then a number of other things, because when there is an omnibus spending bill like this, which is the product of pork-barrel politics, I can guarantee you under miscellaneous, there is an awful lot of miscellaneous spending. As the old political adage goes “A billion dollar dollars here, a billion dollars there, sooner or later you’re talking about real money.” This is real money, but of course, as we’re looking at the social spending bill, the president has politically it tied to this bill.

That’s the big plan for his reputation as a transformational president, you’re looking at a bill that at least some have demanded to be $6 trillion. It was cut back to 3.5 trillion by the president. Now it was supposedly cut back to a framework agreement among Democrats of $1.75 trillion. By the time it was discussed during the voting process on Friday, it was referred to as $1.85 trillion. And no one at this point knows exactly what is in that bill.

But nonetheless, the passage of that bill remains President Biden’s priority. And you can see the progressives in his party crying foul, because the infrastructure bill went through, the social spending bill has not yet gone through. Now, what does that mean? It means that we don’t know exactly what’s in and what’s out. We don’t know exactly what the legislative calendar’s going to be, but President Biden did say, or at least the White House said, that there will be some action on this bill by the week of November the 15th. That’s going to come up pretty fast. That’s just one week away.

It’s going to be fascinating to see where this goes. It is going to be a big debate within the Democratic Party. It’s going to have a great deal to do with the future of our nation. We’re going to watch it very, very closely, but when it comes to the infrastructure bill, just a couple of worldview issues. Number one, we believe in the necessity of a quality infrastructure. There is bipartisan agreement that an inadequate amount of money has been spent on infrastructure over the course of the last several decades. Now, conservatives will point to the fact that one of the reasons that is true is because so much money is being taken by federal entitlement programs, other social programs, and thus there has been a neglect of what liberals and conservatives recognize is a function of government.

Something like, for example, just to give one illustration, the interstate highway system. By the way, in historical terms, President Biden and the Democratic leaders in Congress are saying that this is the biggest infrastructure spending bill in real dollars since the interstate highway program during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. Clearly there are problems that need to be addressed such as lead pipes, but that’s largely a municipal problem. It’s a problem of localities, but the American people are likely to support this kind of infrastructure program. And of course, it’s going to come as so many federal spending programs do come with promises of jobs, but here’s where we also need to note that a social agenda is drilled through this infrastructure bill. And that includes, for example, some favoritism towards labor unions, some Green New Deal dimensions that are already built into this infrastructure plan.

It’s a reminder that the demons, as they say, are always in the details, and looking at the details of this bill, there is no way that a broad category of Americans would support all of it. But the legislative process means at least enough members of Congress supported enough of it to get this bill through at about 11:20 on Friday night through the House, and barely so. So what does that tell us about the big social spending bill? It tells us that it is still in play, but it’s still in play. It is by no means an accomplished deal, and we’re going to be looking at that bill very, very closely to understand what it means for our nation going ahead. Again, we’re going to be looking for the big worldview issues, but what we need to note right now is that one of the things that you should watch from Washington is that Washington tries to seize upon anything it can claim as an accomplishment. And that is a bipartisan temptation.

So you are likely to hear a good number of people in Washington saying, “Okay, we achieved this triumph of this bill,” especially Democrats who, again, faced a very, very hard reckoning last Tuesday on Election Day. But the big focus is not on last Tuesday now, it’s on the first Tuesday of November of next year and the midterm elections. That’s the big game right now, and make no mistake, everyone in electoral Washington is aiming towards that date more than any other right now.

Part II

Elections Have Consequences: State Department Equates “Reproductive Rights“ With Human Rights

But next, as we know, every major election is about consequences. Elections have consequences, and our main concern are worldview consequences on the big issues say such as human dignity and the sanctity of human life. So consider an article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post. It was inside the front section, on page A7.

That means it’s considered important national news, but by no means front-page national news. Here’s the headline: “Reproductive rights back in State Department reports.” So every year the State Department issues a very considerable report. This one is the report for human rights, looking around the world for the year 2020. Now what’s important here is that the Biden administration, and we’ve talked about this before in anticipation of this report, the Biden administration is now making abortion rights, packaged of course as a woman’s reproductive health, that’s their language, a matter of the human-rights reporting and the human-rights agenda of the United States State Department considering human rights around the world. Missy Ryan reports, “The U.S. State Department has restored assessments of global reproductive rights to its annual human-rights report. That’s defined as another move by the Biden administration to roll back decisions made under President Donald Trump.” Huge.

Again, elections have consequences. When Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States, he said, he was said as a candidate and then he said as president, he followed that by action. He rolled back Obama administration dictates, and of course, a lot of that had to do with Hillary Clinton during the time she was secretary of state. President Trump rolled back dictates that were being followed by the State Department as well as other federal agencies. But the State Department, when it comes to international relations, making abortion rights a national priority as the United States would engage other nations in the world.

Now, a little footnote here, the Obama administration also made LGBTQ rights a matter of national policy. We had embassies that were painted in a rainbow color by illumination of lights, for example, during Pride Month. We had other initiatives taken whereby the United States was using its diplomatic power, for example, as leverage against African nations, arguing that they needed to get with the LGBTQ-rights agenda.

But the article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post is not about the LGBTQ issues, but rather about abortion. But the word abortion hardly appears in the article. Again, this is the political euphemism, a woman’s reproductive health. But wait just a minute. There’s something interesting going on here. The Biden administration in the stimulus bill and in other bureaucratic language has referred not to a woman’s reproductive rights, but increasingly to language such as “pregnant people.” But you’ll notice when the Biden administration’s talking about the rest of the world, it doesn’t use the language of “pregnant people.” Instead, it talks about, well, there’s that old quaint word for you: women. The article by Missy Ryan in the Post includes this statement: “The department’s 2020 rights report released in updated form last Thursday now includes dedicated sections describing foreign countries’ methods of handling contraception and abortion, information on maternal mortality, and other issues related to family planning and reproductive health.”

Now, for example, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in making the announcement said, “Because women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, are human rights,” the State Department would make this a priority. But wait just a minute, we just need to stand back for a moment. As Christians, we need to look at that language pretty carefully. The claim being made by the current United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, is that abortion rights, make no mistake, this is what he’s talking about, abortion rights are human rights. Now wait just a minute. If that’s true, then we are obligated to support abortion rights. If abortion rights are human rights, that is, if the Creator has endowed all human beings with such a right, or even we might say half of the human race, the female half of the human race, with those rights, then we’d be honor bound to respect them. We’d be honor bound to protect them the same way we talk about the right to religious liberty, the right to vote, the right to freedom of assembly, the right not to be coerced, the right not to be … Well, you go down the list.

But here’s where Christians have to understand this language is extremely dangerous. When we’re speaking about human rights, in terms of fundamental human rights, and again, the State Department under Anthony Blinken as secretary has said that so-called reproductive justice rights are basic fundamental human rights, in his words just like any other right, well, when we look at that kind of language, we need to understand what is happening. We have a claim here that a right to abortion should have been recognized throughout all of human history and must now be recognized in every single society as fundamental to what it means to be human.

Now, again, this is a propagandist misuse of the category of human rights. It is a morally grotesque corruption of the idea of human rights, but this is increasingly the notion of human rights that is being driven by a secularized society. And it’s unhinged from any kind of understanding of the origin of rights coming from outside human beings ourselves. Human rights in this discussion is a continuing negotiation of what we will agree, or at least a sufficient number of us will agree, we will stipulate as rights for one another. That is not the way Christians look at human rights. We do not look at human rights as a matter of positive law just created by law or something that is invented by a government or something that we simply agree upon by social compact. Again, look at the language of the United States Declaration of Independence. We’re talking about human beings being endowed with certain unalienable rights by the Creator.

And here’s the thing, as the Creator has revealed those rights to us, there is a profound absence of any kind of right to kill unborn human life. Instead, there is a fundamental non-negotiable primary right to the sanctity of human life. Speaking of the report, by the way, State Department spokesperson Ned Price, according to the Post, “said the addition to the annual report first released without separate reproductive-rights sections in March reflected the Biden administration’s focus on gender equality.”

“We reaffirm our full commitment to promote and protect the sexual and reproductive health of all individuals, recognizing the essential and transformative role they play in gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment around the world.” So notice again, the empowerment of females, of girls and women, and again, that’s anachronistic language according to the very same administration, but the empowerment of females is now defined as support for, rather unconditional support for, abortion, and some call reproductive rights, as fundamental freedoms. Just consider what that means.

That’s the official foreign policy of the United States, or at least it’s the official foreign policy under this administration. Again, elections have consequences. This is one of those consequences.

Part III

Vestiges Of Created Order In A Secular Society On Display As Alimony For Men Still Debated Issue Among Feminists

But finally, we can’t miss another issue that appeared in public debate, this in the pages of the New York Times. The article’s by Louise Rafkin. It appeared just a few days ago. The headline: “The paradox of alimony for men.”

Now, again, this is interesting because we’re told that according to current family law, the law is supposed to be blind to gender. Laura Wasser, a California lawyer representing Kelly Clarkson, that’s the singer, in her high profile divorce said, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. That’s how family law works.” Well, it turns out that’s how it works sometimes, but at least that’s how it’s supposed to work in theory. But it turns out that in many cases in which you have a husband and a wife who are divorcing, and the wife made appreciably more money than the man, even though the law is supposed to be gender blind and thus alimony should be assigned to the former husband rather than the former wife, it turns out that many courts don’t actually work that way. There’s an ingrained bias that says men should work and support themselves, and there’s a bias against paying men alimony.

And there’s also an embarrassment on the part of many men in receiving alimony, but evidently not all are embarrassed. For example, Kelly Clarkson, the singer, is indeed going through a high-profile divorce. She divorced Brandon Blackstock, an entertainment agent. They split, we are told, in the year 2020. They had been married for seven years. Now, Mr. Blackstock has demanded an ongoing alimony payment. He’s been awarded temporary monthly spousal support of nearly $150,000. Now, he had asked for $300,000 a month. Evidently he’s got big bills. But even as that sounds like a lot of money, he wasn’t given $300,000 a month. He was given $150,000 a month. That’s over against the fact that we are told that the singer makes about $1.9 million a month.

In other words, she can’t afford it. But then the New York Times tell us: “Public response to the breakup has not been favorable to Mr. Blackstock, who on Twitter has been called out as a parasite and an opportunist, among other unprintable names.” The Times then tells us: “One sentiment echoed in many comments, ‘What kind of man sues his ex-wife for spousal support when he is perfectly capable of maintaining his lifestyle on his own salary?'”

Now, just speaking as a Christian theologian, I believe that there are reasons to believe that men and women have different roles, most importantly in the home and in the church, but also by extension, there’s a pattern that continues into society. We don’t have the hard and fast rules that we have according to Scripture in the home and in the church, but is interesting that even in a secularized world that is at war with a biblical pattern of reality and a biblical pattern of morality, it is clear that there are at least vestiges of a sense that things ought to be recognized as different between men and women.

But after all, the demand of second-wave feminism is absolute equality. And of course the word we’re now hearing is not just absolute equality, but absolute equity. But it turns out that even many courts, many judges, when looking at the situation do consider the fact that men are often given less alimony support. And the expectation is that they will need less alimony support, even when, at least on paper, the wife was making a great deal more money. And by the way, alimony is intended to try to buffer the consequences of divorce in financial terms. So equality should mean equality. Equity should mean equity in this sense, but it’s just really interesting to note that in a fallen world, it actually doesn’t turn out that way.

Even when the feminists are declaring they want equality, many of them don’t want it when it comes to alimony. The article sites Michael Mosberg identified as a New York-based lawyer and the former chairman of the American Bar Association’s family-law section. He said, “The law is written to be gender-neutral and blind, but that isn’t always the case.” He said, “More women are now working in prestigious positions, and more husbands are staying home with the kids, but men receiving support is still the exception rather than the rule.”

The Times goes on to tell us: “‘Judges often scrutinize men more harshly during their bid for support, reflecting the bias that assumes men are or should be breadwinners,’ said Brendan Hammer, a Chicago-based lawyer. He said further ‘Judges may also ask for a job diary to prove that the husband is trying to earn what he did formerly or even earn a living wage.'”

The Times tells us: “Some think the entire support system is flawed.” The paper then cites Emma Johnson, author of a book the title of which I can’t mention on The Briefing. But nonetheless, she said, “No one wants to pay alimony, but women hate it times 10.” My point in raising this particular controversy is just to say, look, here’s a vestige of something that God built into creation, a distinction between men and women. And it continues even in an age that says it rejects it all together because it doesn’t reject it all together.

Not for example, when in policy, the rubber hits the road. There, it turns out, women hate alimony. They hate paying it, times 10. In other words, sometimes equality sounds like something really to be sought after, until you find out what equality’s going to cost you. And if equality costs you that much, equity, as it’s currently defined by the left, will cost you a whole lot more. And if you demand it, it turns out once you have it, you may hate it, oh, I don’t know, times 10.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Washington D.C., and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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