The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 2, 2023

It’s Monday, October 2, 2023.

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

Part I

A Centrist? Only Because the Democratic Party Has Moved So Far Left: The Political Legacy of the Late Dianne Feinstein

Just shortly after midnight on Friday morning, Dianne Feinstein, the senior United States senator from California died at age 90. Now, this is a big news story, but it’s not exactly unexpected. Over the course of the last couple of years, there’s been a notable decline in Senator Feinstein’s health, also in her mental acuity. There had been even people within her party who had called for her to retire. And her concession was to say that she would not run for reelection in the 2024 election cycle there in California. That set the stage for what would be then an open seat according to that theory if Dianne Feinstein had lived through the remainder of her term. And that open seat is already hotly contested in the only place that it really matters, which is in the Democratic Party and in anticipation of a Democratic primary.

Now, that entire picture is scrambled, and it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens because California’s very democratic, very liberal governor, Gavin Newsom, had pledged to appoint a Black woman who would be the first Black woman United States senator from the state of California. Now, there you have identity politics and political ideology all mixed together in what could also be described as a political payoff, but it really does restrict the governor. He has restricted himself. If you live by identity politics, you’ll die by identity politics.

And Gavin Newsom is now in a genuinely excruciating political situation because if he does name an African American woman as an acting senator, that is to hold the position until there can be an election in 2024, he will be seen to have given that candidate a sizable advantage in the Democratic nomination race for 2024. He’s in a very tight position. He put himself in that position. No sympathy to him, but we’re just making the political observation, which is also simultaneously a moral observation, and that is that if you tie yourself to identity politics, guess what? You are tied to identity politics. We’ll be watching to see what Governor Newsom does. But it’s really important that we look back at Senator Dianne Feinstein’s life and understand there’s some really big lessons for us there.

Dianne Feinstein really came to America’s political attention and that specifically in the Democratic Party as she was serving as a member of the Board of Supervisors there in the city of San Francisco. San Francisco is a famously liberal city. And Dianne Feinstein came from a prominent Jewish family and she was pretty well identified with the liberal mainstream of San Francisco politics. In California politics, the reference to San Francisco Democrats is a particular way of identifying persons who are likely to be on the cultural left.

Feinstein served on the Board of Supervisors there in San Francisco between 1969 and 1978. In 1978, she catapulted to a new political profile and became the mayor of San Francisco with the assassination of the then current mayor, George Moscone, and another of the supervisors there in San Francisco, an openly gay man who was an early activist for the LGBTQ movement by the name of Harvey Milk. The assassinations of those two by a fellow city supervisor set the stage for Dianne Feinstein to become the city’s mayor, a role she served between 1978 and 1988. At that point, Dianne Feinstein, who was very well positioned within the state and with California democratic politics, she made a run for the governorship. She did not earn that nomination. She came back later and eventually won election to the United States Senate. She became the second woman to serve as a United States Senator from the state of California. And she would become the most powerful woman to serve in that role perhaps in the United States Senate during her term.

She served in numerous committee assignments and had massive influence, largely because she represented the state of California, which is absolutely necessary for any Democrat who has national political aspirations. Not only must they carry the state of California in a general election, they must also basically win the California primary because of the number of delegates and the enormous cultural impact and power that is represented by the state of California within democratic politics.

But here’s something I want us to understand. When you’re looking at Dianne Feinstein, you’re looking at someone who comes from the background of democratic politics in the city of San Francisco, so that’s very well identified. She was very closely identified with support for what was then known as the gay and lesbian community, and this also was overlaid with San Francisco’s role in the AIDS crisis during the 1980s and into the 1990s. And Dianne Feinstein, when she emerged on the national landscape as a woman democratic senator from the state of California, she yielded enormous influence within the Democratic Party. And we need to note that she was well identified on the gay rights issue before she ever got there.

But we also need to understand something else. Dianne Feinstein has been very, very clear and adamant in her support for what she would style as a woman’s right to abortion. And she used some of the language, or at least her office used some of the language, that is now so common in the pro-abortion movement, which is a woman’s reproductive health, et cetera, et cetera. It’s important to recognize that Dianne Feinstein actually voted against the partial birth abortion ban. In other words, she basically refused to ban or to limit even the horrifying practice of partial birth abortion as it was known, and that did pass. It’s important to recognize it passed. There were at least many Democrats who voted for that bill, whether they believed in the pro-life cause or not, they weren’t going to face the electorate having not voted against so-called partial birth abortion. It’s a heinous practice in which the baby is mostly born alive and then aborted at the very last moment.

It’s nonetheless, we need to recognize, just a symbol of how grotesque sin becomes because abortion itself is a horrifying sin and is the intentional termination of unborn life. The moral distinction between partial birth abortion and any abortion is an extremely narrow moral space. But nonetheless, politically, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was very important. And what’s important for our reflection here is that Dianne Feinstein voted against it. Dianne Feinstein was adamant in her opposition as a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee against Republican nominees to the United States Supreme Court. And in particular, she played a very deliberate role in trying to prevent then Judge Brett Kavanaugh from being successfully confirmed to the seat on the United States Supreme Court as nominated by President Donald Trump. It was a very dirty affair.

But you also have, in the case of Dianne Feinstein, someone who refused to confirm to the nation’s highest court, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr, who would meet any definition, any dictionary definition, any fair-minded definition of one of the most well-prepared juris in recent American history. She opposed him as well. She also was very clear in opposing now Justice Samuel Alito in terms of his confirmation hearings. So let’s just say she’s been very consistent in her liberalism, even as many in her party and even many Republicans have said that she’s more of a centrist Democrat than a left wing Democrat. The point I want to make is that that’s not because she moved to the center, but because her party kept moving further to the left. Furthermore, as you think about the reputation that she gained, at least among some for centrism, it had a lot more to do with the fact that on military and defense related issues, she did sometimes vote in ways that displeased the left wing base of her own party.

But it’s a very different thing to talk about military spending than to talk about terminating unborn human life in the womb. Something else to remember is that in the immediate aftermath of the 2022 Dobbs decision by the US Supreme Court reversing Roe v. Wade, Dianne Feinstein went so far as to call for national legislation that would codify abortion rights for women. She went further than that and argued that it should be free from any threat of a filibuster, that the rules of the Senate should be changed in order to press through with a tiny democratic majority of pro-abortion legislation that would effectively be not only the codification of Roe v. Wade. And by the way, that would mean even without some of the restrictions that were constitutionally allowable under Roe v. Wade, but it would be without any restrictions and then without any threat of the filibuster.

Now, remember that her death means that Democrats have 50 seats in the United States Senate. Now they really have 51 votes because an independent senator votes with them, caucuses with them, but still there are only 50 Democratic senators. It’s one of the reasons why the California governor is going to be under immense political pressure to appoint someone fast.

I want to come back to the big lesson here. Dianne Feinstein really does represent, or now we would say did represent, the movement in her own political party over the course of the last 50 or so years. She had a very long political life. And indeed I think most Californians came to the conclusion that she was irresponsible in trying to remain in that position when she was clearly beyond mental and physical functioning adequate to that task. On the other hand, she had huge political clout. She was backed also by her husband’s vast millions of dollars. The end of her life was a political tragedy as was measured by the fact that she simply wasn’t functional as a United States senator. She was a very sad image to see in terms of the media coverage. But as Christians, we have to step back and say no, the great tragedy is actually what she represented when she was at her political strength and at her greatest level of political influence.

And here’s what we also understand, Dianne Feinstein may genuinely have ended her life on many issues as a centrist in the Democratic Party, and so far as there is a centrist tradition in the Democratic Party, but it’s not because she moved. Right. It’s because her party is so aggressively moving left. So here is a prediction. I don’t know what Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, is going to do, but I think I can safely almost guarantee that whoever is sitting in Dianned Feinstein’s seat in the United States Senate, and I say that metaphorically, in a matter of weeks or months, that person is going to have to be self-identified as considerably to the left of Dianne Feinstein. That’s a pretty sad parable of American politics on our age, but it’s one of those parables that’s being lived out right now before our eyes.

Part II

45 More Days Aboard a Sinking Ship: Washington Comes to an Agreement to Avoid Government Shutdown

Meanwhile, there’s other huge headline news from Washington, DC. The House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow 45 more days in order for a financial agreement to be reached in terms of federal spending. You can wager in your own mind how likely it is that those 45 days will matter, but it does mean that there is not a government shutdown already in effect. And that would be incredibly disruptive. We just need to admit that. Even just in terms of the United States military and others, that would be very disruptive. It’s not to say in every case it’s wrong, but I am going to say in this case, those who are pressing for a government shutdown are fairly empty-handed in terms of a long-term strategy or even a short-term strategy of what to do after that.

One of the maximums of politics that I think every Christian should understand is that you shouldn’t take action A unless you have a pretty good idea of what could be a reasonable action B. There needs to be a longer term plan than being able to tweet to your constituents or to the nation in the media that you’ve done something that makes you feel good.

But nonetheless, the major political development in this is that the Republican Speaker of the House passed that bill in the House only with overwhelming democratic support. Now, this breaks what had been a Republican rule over the course of the last several years. It was a Republican rule put in place when there was a far larger Republican majority in the United States House. The fact is that the speaker didn’t have the votes even for an extension in terms of the negotiations. And so he simply decided that he had to go with a bill that might have overwhelming Democratic support and with thus move to the Senate where the Senate could act and then President Biden could sign in order to avoid a government shutdown to buy some political time.

Now, what will be the speaker’s fate after this? Those who have been saying from the right and the Republican caucus that they would challenge the speaker for his job, well, Speaker McCarthy basically said, “If you want to come after me, come after me.” It’ll be very interesting to see what happens. But even in that sense, it’s not clear that Republicans have any plan B at present. It’s just a reminder of the fact that Republicans really have very few choices with a House majority that is so small. And it also nonetheless is a reminder that with the Democrats holding the White House and the United States Senate, albeit by that thin majority, it really does matter that Republicans hold the House. It just points to the decisive nature of the 2024 election. And remember in that election, every single seat in the United States House is going to be up for election or reelection. So a big dynamic is set up. At least by 2024, it’s not just the Speaker of the House, but every single member of the House who is going to have to face voters one way or the other.

It also points to the fact that the separation of powers is absolutely crucial in our constitutional system, and that separation of powers really is strengthened when in the case of a situation with a Democrat in the White House, you have Republicans who have vast control in Congress. The Republicans lost the Senate. The question is whether the Senate could be regained. And then there’s question as whether the Republicans can strengthen their hand in the House while Democrats expect that they’re going to pick the House back up after the 2024 election.

By the way, there’s reason for the Democrats to have some confidence in that because of reapportionment and the rearrangement of congressional districts in several areas and the fact that the 2020 election produced a Congress that in the House it was based upon a districting system, particularly in the state of New York that disadvantaged some Democrats and gave Republicans what might turn out to be a very temporary advantage in some of those districts. And then of course, when you look at the Republican caucus in New York, you also know you’re looking at a very complicated picture. Once again, we’re going to have to track this together month by month, if not day by day.

Part III

‘Children Are Not Deserving Solely Because They Got Lucky and Came From a Rich Womb’: Confronting the Argument Against Inherited Wealth

But now let’s turn to something very different. I’m speaking to you from Scotland today. And even as I left London, England and York to go north into Scotland, I picked up The Observer, which is that left-wing London newspaper, largely associated with Labor Party and in many ways with socialism, and found a comment and analysis piece that ran in Sunday’s edition of the paper by Will Hutton, the columnist.

Here’s the title, the headline, “Passing on Great Wealth to our Children spells the End of Society. Just Ask Aristotle.” Now, the political cause of this is the fact that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for an elimination of the death tax. So the Labor Party and the left in England, they’re very addicted to virtually every kind of tax. They want to see more taxation, particularly of those they identify as the rich. The reason why the death tax is vastly unpopular in Great Britain is because there are a lot of people who say, “Look, this is not just about plutocrats. I’m afraid this is going to hit my hard-earned savings, which I was trying to pass on to my own children.” Well, what’s really interesting in this article is how you have this kind of socialist thinking that is reflected in the fact that as Will Hutton writes, “He’s calling for a state that will basically end the possibility of transferring wealth on generation to generation.”

Now, before I take one further step in this analysis, let me point out that that’s directly contrary to the wisdom of the Old Testament that suggests that it is a responsibility of one generation to pass on to the next generation. As a matter of fact, the Biblical worldview says we are to have a multi-generational perspective that should affect our moral behavior, it should affect our financial behavior, it should affect our work ethic.

Where the water hits the wheel in this article is found late in the first column when he says this, “Children are not deserving solely because they got lucky and came from a rich womb,” not an argument accepted by today’s conservative right and their media outriders. “As one Daily Telegraph,” that’s a conservative paper, “one Daily Telegraph columnist wrote late last week, inveighing against inheritance tax, ‘At the stroke of a HRMC pen, the tax commission, the fruits of a lifetime of love and labor is diverted to a propagate and ungrateful state. No wonder the levy is so bitterly resented’.” And then he goes on to say, “This pernicious tax should just be abolished.” That’s the conservative position. He wants the opposite.

But what I want to point to is the sentence in which he said, “Children are not deserving solely because they got lucky and came from a rich womb.” Now, you know that’s one of those arguments that it might strike a bit of populist outrage on the populist left. Children shouldn’t win the lottery simply because they had rich parents. But I want you to understand a couple of definitional issues. Number one, what does rich mean in this case? Morally by the way, that’s a problematic statement regardless of how much money you’re talking about.

But it’s important to recognize that as socialism looks at this particular question and big state government looks at this particular question, you’re really talking about middle America or middle Britain in this case. You’re talking about families, couples that work hard to buy real estate, to buy a home and to improve that home and to save so their children can go to college and perhaps they can be very careful in the stewardship of, say, retirement funds and there’d be something not only for their retirement, something left over for their children and grandchildren. That’s very much an Old Testament pattern.

But as you’re looking at this, you recognize that this is bigger than an inheritance tax. I want us to look at the moral argument that is made by this left-wing columnist in this liberal newspaper and understand what we’re really looking at. Again, “Children are not deserving because they got lucky and came from a rich womb.” I want you to note that recently we’ve seen some other arguments which come down to this. Children shouldn’t be privileged simply because they come from an intact family with a mother and a father married to one another. Children should not be privileged merely because they have parents who give them devoted attention. And in one argument that came out during COVID I covered on The Briefing, you had people saying it’s unjust that some children have parents who are helping with, say, home instruction under the lockdown of COVID. Those children have an advantage over other children, and that advantage is unfair.

That, again, is the violation of a biblical logic. We need to understand something. The Bible is big on justice, but the justice that the Bible is very clear and affirming is a justice that is rooted in obedience to God’s law and obedience to creation order. And that means actually that we are very concerned about children who do not have the advantages that come with having a mother and a father in the home. We’re very concerned. We’re very concerned with children who do not have enough to eat or have other disadvantages. And clearly, we are a society that has tried over the course of, say, especially the last century, to develop and fund vast social spending programs to try to make up for brokenness in families and brokenness in communities and brokenness in finances.

But here’s something else that’s just clearly Biblical, and this is deeply rooted in the Christian worldview in the principle which we come back to again and again known as subsidiarity. That is the Christian theological and moral principle that says when something is broken at the most basic level, nothing at a higher or more abstract level can really fix it.

Now, that doesn’t mean that those higher level structures don’t have a responsibility, but they can’t fix it. If you have a broken home, society may have very good intentions, but it cannot raise a child. If you have parents who are not engaged or one parent in a home, and we talked about the two-parent privilege issue as it’s been coming out in the media discussion over a book that’s engendering a lot of controversy, but as I pointed out just a few weeks ago, even days ago now, there are some people even on the left who are saying that the math here is not adding up. You simply look at the numbers of children who are falling behind educationally and you look at one parent homes versus two-parent homes, there’s a very clear pattern here. But this is where the left says, “Okay, so the child who is ahead because of the investment of his or her parents, that should be a privilege that is checked by society.”

A recent proposal I saw was talking about college admissions and said, “Colleges need to watch how many children they are accepting.” And by children here, I mean young people, 17 year olds who are being approved for admission and acceptances into these colleges and universities because the disproportionate of those who are doing well in the tests and who are able to write compelling essays for college acceptance, they tend to come from very stable, middle-class families with a mother and a father married to one another. Well, we as Christians understand those things really do go together. That’s not some kind of capitalist conspiracy. This is actually creation order. This is actually obedience to the pattern that God has given us.

Now, again, you look at the Old Testament, guess what? There’s also a concern for the widow and the orphan and the alien in your midst. The Bible doesn’t say that we as a society, we as a church, we as Christians have no responsibility for those who are disadvantaged. But here’s where Christians need to press back and say, “Here’s what we want. We want every child to have that same privilege.” The answer from the left, and no one expressed this more pithily than Ronald Reagan when he was president of the United States, and he told the story. This isn’t an exact analogy, but he told the story, and I’ll never forget him telling it. He said that there’s a difference between an American standing on a curb when a limousine passes and a Soviet citizen standing on the curb when the limousine passes. He said, “The difference is this. The Soviet sees the limousine pass and says, ‘No one should ride in a car like that’.” He said, “The American looking at the limousine passes said, ‘Everyone should ride in a car like that’.”

It’s not an exact parallel, but it is to say that we as Christians want to strengthen where there is weakness. We want to shore up where there is the need for the defense of the family and for the defense of marriage. And yes, we want to help children who are disadvantaged, but the way to do that is not in the name of social engineering to try to artificially reduce the advantage or the so-called privilege, to use the common language, in the culture these days of children who come from intact two-parent homes where you have parents investing mightily in their children. The way this works shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

One of the perplexing realities of our age is that so many on the cultural left actually think that some abstraction like society or some particularity like government can resolve these issues and make all things well. This is where Christians understand government has a responsibility, but the one thing government is incompetent to do is to raise a child. Government has a responsibility, but what it is unable to do is in the truest sense, educate a child. And going back to that story in which you had this figure in the left arguing that we should simply eliminate inheritance from one generation to another, has anyone paused to think about what that would do to the work ethic in the United States of America? Why should you work so hard if your children and grandchildren will never have the, yes, strength and benefit and advantage of your labor?

I think the 20th century should be enough to prove what a society that follows that kind of logic eventually looks like. Just think the Soviet Union in 1988. And if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you before a live audience in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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