The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 12, 2022

It’s Thursday, May 12th, 2022.

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

Part I

Democratic-Led Senate Unable to Gain Even a Majority Vote on Radical Abortion Bill—But They Will Keep Trying

Well, of course the big story yesterday is what didn’t happen. The fact that it didn’t happen meant that we are still looking at news. What didn’t happen is that Democrats in the United States Senate were unable to forward to the floor for consideration a bill they proposed known as the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022. And just understand, even though the Democratic leadership was claiming that this is a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade, it actually would go much further. The legislation as proposed would basically allow for abortion all the way up till the moment of birth.

Now, you say, “It doesn’t say that.” Well, no, it does say that. Let me tell you how it says that. It says that by saying that in the third trimester an abortion may be prohibited by a state unless medical professionals say that there is a threat to the woman’s life for health. Now once that became defined as emotional health, that meant anything. So it’s basically no barrier to abortion at all. And those who are forwarding this legislation, they know it. Now, as you’re looking at the news report about what didn’t happen, about the fact that the Democrats could not advance the bill, I want you to note even a report that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, I want us to look at how this is reported.

The reporters, Siobhan Hughes and Eliza Collins tell us this, “Senate Democrats failed to advance a bill seeking to ensure women’s access to abortion in a vote designed to draw a clear contrast with Republicans ahead of a potential Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade looming just months before the midterm elections.” Listen to the next sentence, “The vote was 49 in favor and 51 against, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act.” What’s the problem there? It is the fact that if you look at the math, it was 49 in favor, 51 against. That did not merely mean that the measure did not get the needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, it did not gain a majority.

Furthermore, there was even one Democrat who did not vote for the legislation. Not a single Republican voted for it, and even as most Democrats did vote for it, one did not, Senator Joe Manchin, Democratic Senator of West Virginia. And so that gives you the math, 49 in favor, 51 against. And so the big news here should be that the bill didn’t even gain a majority, not just the super majority of 60 votes needed to advance the bill officially to the floor. We’re looking at the fact that the media is trying to present this in a very, very clear and very, very pro-abortion way.

Now you say, well, now hold on a minute, because you’ve often discussed The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which has demonstrated unusual clarity and indeed even journalistic courage in staking out a position in criticism of Roe v. Wade in support of the Supreme Court, et cetera. Yes, but that points did something else. When you look at all the major American newspapers, you see at least in theory, a clear distinction between the news staff and the editorial staff that covers news and the opinion or commentary staff and the editors who handle the review and opinion, commentary as in Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff is clearly conservative as you think about the political spectrum, refreshingly so, but increasingly as you look at the news reporting staff of The Wall Street Journal and the approach taken in the news pages, well, if you’re looking for a debate in the United States, that debate at least implicitly can be found often within the front section of The Wall Street Journal, and it’s a debate between the news department and the commentary or opinion department. But I can tell you as an editor of some experience, I would not have allowed this sentence to go forward as it is because you can’t say that 49 voted for and 51 against fall short of 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster. It didn’t even muster a majority.

The reporters did get right the reason behind this legislation, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York brought it knowing that it would fail. The article says, “Democrats held the vote despite knowing it was certain to fail in the 50/50 Senate where abortion stances split almost entirely along party lines.” The report goes on to say, “No Republican supported the measure and centrist Democratic Senator Joe Manchin had broken with his party and opposed the bill. But Democratic Party leaders saw the vote as a crucial political step with the prospect of the end of federal abortion protections now looming and the matter being returned over to the states.”

Now you’ll notice, I’m not saying it’s just politics because we’re talking about abortion here after all, we’re talking about a deep and urgently important moral issue. And so even as you might discuss or dismiss certain things as just politics, well, politics is very much a part of the equation, but in this case, it is very clear that all that was driving this vote is an effort to try to influence the midterm elections coming in November. So we’ve been told that up front, we now know that’s the case. The same thing was reported by the New York Times, again, a very pro-abortion newspaper in this case, as Annie Karni reported for the Times, “Still Democrats see a political opportunity before the midterm elections enforcing Republicans to go on the record against the measure when polls show that most voters favor at least some legal abortion.”

They, meaning the Democrats, “plan to use the defeat as a chance to make the case to voters that Republicans are extremists, and the only way to safeguard reproductive rights and other vital protections is to elect more Democrats.” Now, before we leave this issue, we need to face something very squarely, and that is the fact that as you are looking at this particular vote held yesterday, the date stamp by the way on the legislation was 3:33 PM yesterday. What does that vote tell us? Almost all the Democrats voted for it, all but one and not a single Republican voted for it. What does that tell you? It tells you exactly what The Wall Street Journal news report had conceded.

These days on the issue of abortion, and I would add on many other issues as well, you’re looking at a clear, almost clean partisan divide. Now it’s probably also important to note that the Democrats had tried to bring virtually the same bill some months ago, they failed then to, and so it’s not fair to say that all of a sudden, they came up with this bill because of their supposed outrage about the leaked opinion that had been authored by Justice Samuel Alito, and as you know, that leak has dominated so much of the news in the national conversation since then. Now, they tried this before already, and they have failed already, they knew they would fail this time. They brought it forward because they are trying to make a political point and send a political signal they believe will help them in elections in November.

Now, by the way, if it works that way, if the Democratic plan to make opposition to abortion, a form of extremism that is to scare off voters from choosing Republicans, if they succeed in that, then they may be able to bring a different result in the United States Senate, not to mention in the House the next time they bring this kind of legislation to the floor. That’s something we’re going to have to watch.

Part II

Ma’am, You Are Not a Conservative: A Case Study of ‘Conservatives’ Who Never Were Conservative

But next, sometimes as you are looking at the media response or say the chattering class response to an issue like this, news like the leaked opinion, the controversy that has ensued, sometimes the responses to a story like this turn out to be more revelatory than even the story itself.

And in this case, I want us to look at one particular columnist just for one newspaper. And that would be Jennifer Rubin who’s an opinion columnist for the Washington Post. She has been in that role since 2010. She’s often been referred to as a conservative, she has referred to herself as a conservative. She identified as a conservative when she wrote for other publications, including the generally conservative Jewish magazine known as Commentary. She had identified as a conservative, she was in conversation with other conservatives. It’s interesting to note that her background is in the law.

She holds both an undergraduate and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley when she was named to the opinion staff for the Washington Post, which is in general, a very liberal newspaper. She was introduced as a conservative who would help to balance the conversation there. And there was evidence to believe that she had indeed identified as some kind of conservative in the past. Now it turns out that before she became an opinion journalist, she had actually been a labor lawyer. Now, as you hear that, you might think there aren’t that many conservative labor lawyers. Well, I’m going to be making the argument that Jennifer Rubin is not, and probably never was a conservative.

That turns out to be the big story here. I’m discussing this issue today not so much just to single out Jennifer Rubin, though she has basically singled herself out by the way she’s been writing in recent weeks, but rather just to raise the issue that as we are thinking about the political spectrum and the fact that every single one of us operates out of a worldview in politics, in economics in just about every dimension of life, we need to understand that these labels really do matter. Conservatism has been historically defined as an effort to try to conserve that which is necessary for human flourishing, for human community, for human order.

And in this case, that means not only law and religion and also tradition and pattern, it also means respect for basic institutions that conservatives in the main belief are not just historical accidents, but are actually given to us by God. By that standard, I think it’s very fair to ask whether Jennifer Rubin or for that matter, many others like her had ever been conservative in the first place. The Washington Post claims that she is. In the identification, in the biography of Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post, we are told, “Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for the Washington Post. She covers politics and policy foreign and domestic, and provides insight into the conservative movement, the Republican and Democratic parties and threats to Western democracies.”

So you’ll notice knowledge about, and for that matter, some kind of identification with the conservative movement is not only implied, it’s made clear there. Furthermore, in 2020, that’s just a little bit less than two years ago, September the 17th of 2020, Jennifer Rubin wrote an article in which she said that her Twitter blurb, “Used to describe me as a conservative opinion writer.” Now she changed that, and that’s a part of the story to which we will turn in just a moment. But the point I want to make is that the proper conservative impulse is to conserve what we know is necessary for the good of human civilization, for the good of human lives, for the preservation of the sanctity of human life, for the right ordering of society and the eventual flourishing of the human community.

We believe that there are certain truths that simply have to be conserved. There are certain patterns, even traditions that have to be conserved. There are certain patterns of life, there are certain virtues that have to be conserved. If they are not conserved, then the society itself will be inevitably weakened if not immediately destroyed. In recent weeks as the abortion controversy is reached a fever pitch and after the leak of Justice Alito’s draft opinion, she put out all kinds of articles. For instance, May the 3rd, 2022, at one point, by the way, she was writing almost an article a day. She offered an article of the headline, “The Supreme Court’s religion driven mission sets off a firestorm.”

It’s clear that she is very much against this draft opinion, very much in favor of abortion rights. She writes, “The decision is not final, but does suggest the Supreme Court is ready to launch a radical shift in constitutional law as we have known it for decades.” She accused the court’s majority, “A jaw dropping extension of government power to control the most intimate personal decisions and to impose a particular set of Christian views on the entire country.” She continued, “At its core, the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority seems eager to cast aside the restraint of precedent, making good on their supporter’s agenda rooted in Christian nationalism in assuming life begins at conception, thereby, giving the state unfettered leeway to ban abortion, Alito and his right-wing critics would impose a faith-based regimen, shredding a half century of legal and social change.”

Now, you’ll notice that she just dismisses anyone to her right as being driven by Christian nationalism. She does that explicitly here, but she also fails to do something that intellectual honesty would require. She needs to make very clear if she thinks that the pro-life movement is in error. In saying that life begins at conception, she needs to answer the question when she believes life begins and how that should inform the law. She doesn’t do that, instead, she merely castigates those who hold the conservative pro-life position, and she treats all those who do so as the enemies of democracy. She wants to see pro-life laws struck down.

These are her words, “If the opinion holds, the political tsunami will ensue, more than 20 states have laws that would ban all or nearly all abortions if Roe was overturned. In some cases, states would criminalize all abortions, even in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger, Republicans would be forced to defend such egregious laws.” She cited with approval, people who support abortion such as Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, he is of course, a Democratic Senator from Georgia. Also the pastor we should note of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. And you’re looking at a church and a pastor that have taken a pretty radical pro-abortion position in a party that takes explicitly a very pro-abortion position.

She concludes this particular article by stating that the dignity and autonomy of women depend on Roe v. Wade. Just about a week prior to that article, she had written one with the headline, “The GOP is no longer a party, it’s a movement to impose white Christian nationalism.” Now, this is an argument that we’re going to be hearing over and over again from the Left, and as I’m going to point out in a future addition to The Briefing, it’s simply not new as well as not true. On May the 3rd, that’s the very same day she ran her article, “The Supreme Court’s religion-driven mission sets off a firestorm,” she released another article that was entitled, “The problem with the GOP isn’t just the demagogues, it’s the voters.”

And again, she goes right at the Republican Party saying it is not just the leaders of that party that are the problem, the minister democracy, she says, it’s the voters as well. Now that’s a particular form of antipathy that simply seems to be noted here. As you’re looking at, for instance, those who have referred to conservative voters as the deplorables, that’s exactly what you’re looking at here. This is very clear claim that only those who hold the approved liberal positions are, well to coin a word, I guess, undeplorable. The very next day, that’s May the 4th, so this is three articles in two days at the Washington Post, she run an article of the headline, “Let’s throw out the term culture wars, this is religious tyranny.”

Speaking of the leak to draft, she said, “The Supreme Court decision that would criminalize abortion, eviscerating the ambit to privacy and personal autonomy afforded by the 14th Amendment, which would expand governmental power into every nook and cranny of life from a doctor’s office in Texas treating a transgender child to intimate relations in a bedroom in Georgia to a pharmacy counter in Ohio.” Now wait just a minute, what in the world could be described in that litany has having anything to do with anything that ever was a conservative position? To make the point very clearly, this is an assault upon virtually everything that American conservatism stands for.

Part III

Labeling as Stewardship: The Power of Labels in Society’s Battle of Ideas

But my point is simply this, it’s really important to recognize how opinion is shaped in our civilization, in our society. It’s just really important to see how effective this kind of shaping of conversation can be. It’s also important to recognize that when a newspaper like the Washington Post thinks of a spectrum from conservative to liberal, evidently at least when she was hired and until at least very recently, if not now, Jennifer Rubin is identified by the Washington Post as a conservative. Now I’m making the argument that not only is she not a conservative and the position she holds not conservative positions, I’m arguing, she probably never was a conservative. And you say, well, she wrote for commentary, she was identified as a conservative.

Yeah, but go back to something. In 2020, so that’s just a matter of about two years ago, I mentioned that she wrote an article in which she said that her Twitter blurb used to describe her as a conservative opinion writer, “Now it reads Never Trump, pro-democracy opinion writer.” She raises the question herself, why the change? She goes on to write, “There is no conservative movement or party today, there is a Republican Party thoroughly infused with racism and intellectually corrupted by right-wing nationalism.” Now you understand she’s giving here what’s known as apologia. That’s an old term based on the Greek language, it’s an apology. But what it actually means is a statement in defense of oneself, a statement in defense of what might be the accusation she was never conservative.

She says, “I was a conservative, but there are no conservative movements, there is no conservative movement left.” She went on to offer an all-out attack upon the Republican party. But there’s some interesting things we need to note here. Number one, the Trump years did lead to an awful lot of dislocation. There were people who called themselves conservatives in 2015 who did not by 2016 and would not by 2020. Jennifer Rubin is evidently one of them. But my argument is that when it comes to most, I can’t say all of them, when it comes to most of them, I think that we’re falsely labeled as conservatives in the first place.

Now, why would I say that? Well, just consider Jennifer Rubin, even as you are looking at the accusations she makes now, she says, “I don’t identify as a conservative anymore,” well, we need to recognize that she held positions when she supposedly was identifying as a conservative that simply were not compatible with conservatism. So who meets the good guy standard? When it comes to Jennifer Rubin, she says, governors, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, she says some are now out of government, John Kasich of Ohio, William Weld of Massachusetts, Jeb Bush of Florida.

I simply note that some though not all of them hold to a basically pro-abortion position or at least pro-abortion rights. In the 2012 presidential campaign, she wrote articles extremely supportive of nominee Mitt Romney. She later disfavored positions that she had praised back when Mitt Romney was a candidate, and at least some pointed out that there’s a basic contradiction present there. By 2020, she was a very clear supporter of Joe Biden. She also identifies Joe Biden as holding to some conservative position. She describes him basically as a political moderate. And it’s too late by then to suffer under any such illusion, frankly, it had been for a matter of decades.

But you’ll notice that if you are standing at a certain place, you can claim that virtually anyone is a moderate because you are standing so far from any conservatives, you have lost touch with even who conservatives are and what conservatives believe. But I want to point to something else, and that is this, when you are looking at this kind of issue, it’s never merely this, it’s never merely that, but there are some things that simply defy any imagination when it comes to how anyone could be identified as a conservative. For example, let’s not go back to 2020, let’s go back to the year 2013, Jennifer Rubin was writing then. 2013, she’d already been at the Washington Post for three years.

Back on November the 21st of 2013, Jennifer Rubin, though identified as a conservative, wrote a piece, remember, we’re talking about almost 10 years ago, in which she called upon The National Organization for Marriage, that was an organization that defended the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. She called upon the organization to lead a cultural movement to promote marriage, but in doing so, she made very clear that should and must include the same sex marriage. My point, if you support same-sex marriage, you are not a conservative. You are undercutting the first institution of human civilization given to us by God that allows us to conserve human flourishing.

If you are for the same sex marriage, certainly if you were for it back in 2013, you’re not a conservative now, you were not a conservative then. My purpose in giving this much attention to this issue, this one columnist today, for this one newspaper is to draw attention to how a battle for ideas works in our society. And that one of the first things to recognize is that the labels put on persons, on ideas, on worldviews, turn out to be extremely important. In those terms, one of the first things we need to recognize is that the power to label something, the power to label an idea, a movement, even a person, that power is very significant.

You can change public opinion, public argument sometimes simply by the power to label something, and that includes the label conservative. We’re told over and over again within the mainstream media, that as we look at the conservative movement today, there are people who have defected simply because they’ve decided that conservatism today doesn’t represent them. My argument is that if you look closely in many, if not in most cases, you’re going to find out that conservative actually never did accurately describe them and their beliefs and their ideas, and yes, their opinion columns in the Washington Post.

It’s important that we as Christians think together about how we should think together and individually about what’s going on in the society around us. It’s also important that we recognize that the power of labeling is also a stewardship in order that we would be accurate in the labels we ascribe to ourselves or for that matter, to others.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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