June 17, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, June 17, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Are Americans increasingly inhabiting two separate nations divided by political extremes and largely determined by worldview? That’s the very important question that was raised last week by the Pew Research Center in a report it released that, perhaps more than anything in recent times, demonstrates, once again, the importance of worldview. The Pew Research Center’s report is on the increasing political polarization among Americans. The upshot of the report is this: Americans are increasingly inhabiting two separate political worlds. And as the report also makes clear, there are other issues that are deeply and inextricably involved with this polarization. We’re the ones who understand that immediately from the understanding of the fact that everyone, every voter included, operates out of a basic worldview. The report demonstrates a deep political polarization. If you go back to the 1960s and the 1970s, Americans are divided certainly if you identify them as Democrats and Republicans, but when you look at the underlying issues, there was a great deal of commonality. And now Americans are increasingly divided and they are deeply divided as well. The report that came out last week demonstrates that Americans are divided over an entire landscape of issues—social issues, political issues, economic issues, educational issues, foreign-policy issues—and Americans are also increasingly polarized along partisan lines. In other words, if you say the word Democrat or Republican, you’re increasingly able to predict how an individual that is described by one of those two partisan affiliations is going to hold positions on a range of issues, not just how they will vote.
But the report also demonstrates that the polarization and the divide is generational. It’s also demographic, having to do with geography. And beyond that, it’s also highly predictive of theological or religious beliefs as well. Dan Balz, reporting on this report for The Washington Post, writes:
It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. Conservatives and liberals don’t just differ in their political views. They like to live in different places, associate with like-minded people, and have opposing views on the value of ethnic and religious diversity in their neighborhoods, according to a major new study by the Pew Research Center.
Political polarization is now deeply embedded in the United States — more so than at any time in recent history, and has intensified in recent years. The percentage of Americans who hold either consistently conservative or consistently liberal positions on major issues has doubled over the past decade and now accounts for one-fifth [or 20%] of all Americans.
Well here is something that’s really interesting about that. Even in recent days we reported on the fact that political scientist have determined that the people who care the least about many issues determine the most when it comes to political elections. Those who are in the middle, who sometimes vote one way and sometimes another way, the ticket splitters between the two parties, they’re the ones who are the swing vote that often determine who wins an election, but, as it turns out, they’re also the people who by their own admission know the least about the issues and care the least about the issues.
One of the things you quickly learn as you look at this Pew Research Center report is this: as Americans learn more about the issues, they care more deeply about the issues, and as their views on these issues line up with their worldviews, they are increasingly separate from the people who live in the same neighborhoods. But, as this report makes clear, maybe it’s better to say in the same state or in the same nation because the neighborhood issue plays a big part in this report. Indeed, The New York Times reporting on this—the reporter is Nate Cohn—points to the fact that the report suggests that Americans are self-selecting in terms of how they choose a neighborhood in which to live and with whom they intend to live as neighbors. As Cohn explains:
The urban-rural divide is at the heart of the polarization of Congress. There would be many more competitive districts if Democrats and Republicans were fairly evenly dispersed across the country, as they were for most of the middle of the 20th century. But geographic polarization means that there are few areas where it is even possible to draw a district full of persuadable voters.
Similarly, Dan Balz, writing in The Washington Post, explains:
What is the ideal community? To conservatives it is a small town or rural area. To liberals it is a city or suburb — although the suburbs are neither side’s favored location. Just 4 percent of those who are the most consistently conservative say they prefer to live in a city, while just 11 percent of those with the most consistently liberal views prefer to live in a rural area.
Now let’s look at this report a little more closely. The New York Times suggests that Americans are self-selecting where they want to live based upon their worldview. I would suggest that that is perhaps the wrong way to look at this. Indeed, a significant percentage of Americans haven’t really chosen where they live. They live fairly near where they were born. That’s especially true of more rural Americans. In other words, I think the larger question is this: Does where you live highly influence your worldview? And I think from that perspective, the Christian worldview would inform us that it certainly would, especially when you add yet another dimension of the Pew Research Report. And that is the question: Do you prefer to live near those who share your theological worldview? Fifty-seven percent of conservatives said yes; only 17% of liberals said the same. That is a huge divide, but it’s the kind of divide that is increasingly affirmed by researchers such as Robert Putnam of Harvard University, who suggested that mere attendance at church services was the clearest predictor of voting behavior in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 American presidential elections.
And from a Christian worldview perspective, this also makes a great deal of sense. Liberals by their own self-description are far more likely to be secular in their outlook, and thus they’re more likely to want to live in a secular community. Cities, we know, are far more secular than the suburbs and the countryside. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that worldview determines at least in part where people live or at least why they decide to live where they currently reside. Liberals are far more comfortable in the company of other liberals; conservatives are far more comfortable in the company of other conservatives, especially when you put the word consistent in front of either liberal or conservative. And in that sense, what this report points out is that when people are more logically consistent, when they’re more consistent in terms of their intellectual and moral understandings, they tend to be more consistent in terms of their voting patterns as well. And—and this is hardly a surprise—they’re more consistent as well in terms of their living preferences, at least where they get to live according to their preference.
Dan Balz offers one of the most important insights drawn from this report when he writes:
The findings lend credence to the proposition that there are divergent cultural and geographical components associated with political polarization.
“If people living in ‘deep red’ or ‘deep blue’ America feel like they inhabit distinctly different worlds, it is in part because they seek out different types of communities, both geographic and social,” [that quote directly from the Pew Research Center’s report].
Writing on the same data, Nate Cohn of The New York Times writes, “Polarization: it’s everywhere,” and to that we could add, “and just about everything.” But if any one issue becomes very clear, it’s that it is the cultural and social questions that are driving the deepest politicization. And even as conservatives are certainly more conservative on those issues in terms of the ideological spectrum today than they might have been in the 1970s, in more recent years it is the left that has moved more consistently leftward and that’s especially true just in the last decade.
An important analysis of that point appears in the editorial page of Investor’s Business Daily’s Friday edition. As the editors point out, the movement, in terms of the political direction, has been far more leftward on the left than rightward on the right. “Case in point,” they write, “American Conservative Union rankings show the average Republican senator cast conservative votes 75% of the time in 1990 and 77.8% in 2012.” That’s about a 3% increase over a period of 22 years. “In contrast,” they write, “Democrats voted liberal an average of 90% of the time in 2012, well up from 72% in 1990”—that according to Americans for Democratic Action. Trends in the house votes, they say, were identical for both parties.
Now what makes that remarkably important is this: the two groups counting score here are counting score according to their own ideological commitments. In other words, there’s no reason to question this data. When you’re looking at the American conservative Union, you’re looking at a conservative group. When you’re looking at Americans for Democratic Action, you’re looking at a liberal group. So if you’re looking at the description of liberal votes or conservative votes, Investor’s Business Daily has turned to exactly the right authoritative groups to ask concerning these percentages. And the change is absolutely shocking. On the Republican side, an increase over 20-something years of just 3%, but on the liberal side, on the Democratic side, an increase of a vast percentage point, going up from 72% to 90% in approximately 20 years.
A closer look at the data reveals why it is the cultural and moral issues driving the polarization. There are differences on political and economic issues to be sure, but it is the moral issues that are driving the deepest divide and that’s especially true in the leftward march of the left. And as Investor’s Business Daily’s editors point out, it’s not Ronald Reagan who could not in 2014 get his party’s nomination; it’s Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, they remind us, ran as a tax-cutting, free-trade promoting, welfare reforming, tough-on-crime candidate, who promised that government would never “grow faster than ordinary [American’s] ability to pay for it”—that’s a direct quote from President Clinton. But President Clinton, running on that platform, could not possibly gain his party’s nomination in 2016. That’s how much his party has changed in just that amount of time.
From a Christian worldview perspective, the utility of this report is this. It demonstrates graphically, with undeniable data points, exactly the importance of worldview and why it matters. It matters because every single thinking human being operates out of a system of deep beliefs and those deep beliefs lead to other beliefs and to other decisions. They explain why a voter votes as he or she does. Eventually we live out our worldview. It’s inevitable. And the polarization on political and moral issues in the United States amongst the electorate is a polarization that’s explained by the fact that Americans at the deepest level are deeply divided over the most basic understanding of reality.
Perhaps the most important thing to see from this from a Christian perspective is that theism makes a difference. If you believe in God, you are in a dramatically different worldview position than one who operates out of a secular perspective. And also, one of the most important insights of this particular report is that geography matters and generations matter. It matters to whom you’re born and it matters where you live because as it turns out, the context in which one is raised, both in terms of the family and the community, makes a huge difference in worldview. Christian parents, Christian churches, had better take note.
And speaking of issues related to this, last week Terry Gross of Fresh Air on National Public Radio interviewed Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and United States Senator, who’s currently on an extended book tour, given the release of her new memoir, Hard Choices. And in this particular interview on National Public Radio, Hillary Clinton gets rather angry with Terry Gross over questions related to the evolution of her position on same-sex marriage. The background of this is easy to understand. When Hillary Clinton was in the Senate, she was against the legalization of same-sex marriage. When she was confirmed as Secretary of State, she was opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Before that, when she ran for the Democratic nomination for the office of President of the United States, she was against same-sex marriage. Shortly after she resigned as the United States Secretary of State, she declared that she was for same-sex marriage.
President Obama was for same-sex marriage when he ran for the Senate, the state Senate, in the state of Illinois. He was against same-sex marriage when he ran for president and then he was for same-sex marriage when he ran for reelection as president. The president described his progression on this issue in terms of evolution, and Terry Gross turned to the former Secretary of State, who is now expected be the front-running candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and asked if her position had also evolved. Secretary Clinton said that her position on the question had evolved, as she said, along with the American people. But then Terry Gross began to press her, asking are quite directly if she had actually really believed in same-sex marriage all along, but felt constrained by political realities so that she could not publicly advocate what she personally have preferred. Now let me just insert here that’s exactly what even the handlers of President Barack Obama suggested was the president’s predicament. He was for same-sex marriage; he just couldn’t say so. He ran opposed to same-sex marriage in 2008 because he didn’t have a political choice. Once he did in 2012, he declared himself in favor of same-sex marriage. The Secretary of State’s handlers have said roughly the same thing, but now she’s in the position of saying, “No, I meant what I said all along. I was against it before I was for it.” And then Terry Gross pointed to the rather awkward position for both of the Clintons, pointing out that in 1996, it was President Bill Clinton who signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act. Defensively, the former Secretary of State said that her husband had signed that law into effect so that an even worse law, that means a law that would even be more restrictive on same-sex marriage, would not be adopted. She said that they perverted that point to authorize the states to move in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage. The problem with that response is that the president gave no permission to the states and the states needed no permission from the president to move ahead on their own terms.
What makes this interview most instructive is that it demonstrates that even Hillary Clinton is now in the position of being greatly on the defensive in the Democratic Party on the issue of same-sex marriage. Responding to Terry Gross, she said:
Well I was fully on board with ending discrimination in the workplace on behalf of the LGBT community [speaking of when she was Secretary of State]. I did not support gay marriage when I was in the Senate or running for president, as you know, and as President Obama and others held the same position. But it, for me, became an opportunity to do what I could as secretary of state to make the workplace fairer – something I had always supported and spoke out about. And then when I was out of the secretary of state position and once again free to comment on domestic matters, I very shortly came out in favor of fully equality, including gay marriage.
Speaking of the movement just in the last several years toward support for same-sex marriage, Ms. Clinton said, “It has been an extraordinary fast – by historic terms – social, political, and legal transformation.” In the most interesting part of this exchange between Terry Gross and Hillary Clinton, Terry Gross, a liberal herself on this issue, very clearly thought she was helping the former Secretary of State to define her position. As Terry Gross said
You know, I’m just saying – I’m sorry – I just want to clarify what I was saying – no, I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along, but – you know, believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn’t ready yet and you couldn’t say it. That’s what I was thinking.
In response, the former Secretary of State said this:
I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don’t think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.
What’s missing from my summary of this exchange is what’s found in the headline at Politico: “Hillary Clinton Gets Testy Over Gay Marriage.” And writing at The Washington Post, Alexandra Petri writes, speaking to the secretary:
So what will it be? Were you always secretly on what people now think of as the inevitable right side of history or were you part of what in 1993 felt like a fairly overwhelming majority and now seems dated and bigoted? Neither choice is great. Were you hiding what you felt because you weren’t ready or were you not ready yourself? Er, let’s talk about Benghazi more.”
I draw into that exchange because it is a stellar indication of the velocity of the moral change America is now experiencing and it is also proof positive of that kind of polarization that the Pew Research report was demonstrating. As the editors of Investor’s Business Daily pointed out, it is Bill Clinton, not Ronald Reagan, who could not at the present hour gain the presidential nomination of his own party. That’s how much the Democratic Party has changed, especially given on this issue just in the last several years, and it’s incredibly revealing that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, now expected to be the front runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has a real problem on the issue of same-sex marriage, not because she isn’t for it, but because she wasn’t for it soon enough.
Finally, for many kids, summer means summer camp, but so much for roughing it for today’s kids or at least some of them. As Tara Palmeri of The New York Post reports:
New York City mommies with money to burn are hiring professional organizers to pack their kids’ trunks for summer camp — because their darlings can’t live without their 1,000-thread-count sheets.
Barbara Reich heads a firm known as Resourceful Consultants. She says that she and other high-paid associates have been inundated with requests and she says the job’s a real challenge. It takes three or four hours to pack for clients who demand that she fit all the comforts of home in the luggage, including delicate touches like French-milled soaps and scented candles. These are for kids going to summer camp. She charges $250 an hour. She says that the average kid requires four hours of packing (that runs to about $1000). She said:
I talked three people off the camp ledge. For a lot of mothers, particularly when their child is going away for the first time, it’s very stressful. Clients will say, “I need to touch and feel the sheets for softness.”
One of her colleagues explained, “It’s really about bringing the feel of home to camp.” Well let me say to parents—here’s the obvious: they’re going to camp because they don’t want the experience of being at home. That’s what camp is supposed to be about and for many kids camps can be a very good experience, especially if they’re Christian kids going to a Christian camp where, for many kids, they may have experiences outside that they would otherwise, in this very metropolitan and hectic world, actually never have. There is something just horrifyingly wrong about sending kids to summer camp with French-milled soaps, scented candles, and 1,000-thread sheets. It also says something about many Americans that they will pay a thousand dollars just to pay a consultant to pack their kids’ truck for summer camp. So let the kids be kids and let camp be camp, and if anyone’s really willing to spend $250 an hour to have someone pack their bags, I think I know a lot of seminary students who’d be ready for the job.
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. Remember that we’re taking questions right now for the upcoming second season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Just give us a call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.