The Briefing 08-07-15

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Republican debates offer insights into American mind more than candidates' minds

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Opposing journalists both call for honesty from abortion supporters

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American romanticization of Cecil the Lion neglects reality of danger of lions

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Robert Conquest, exposer of Stalin's murderous regime and fruit of Communism, dies

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 7, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

It’s Friday, August 7, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Republican debates offer insights into American mind more than candidates' minds

Yesterday there was not just one, there were two Republican debates. The first took place yesterday afternoon with seven candidates on the stage. The big event was last night with no less than 10 candidates sharing the stage together in the first major publicized debate of the 2016 presidential race. This of course was on the Republican side. The debate was sponsored by Fox News. Fox News chose the 10 candidates by using poll data in order to qualify 10, and only 10, for the big event last night. Almost immediately after the debate was over everyone fell into the rather traditional pattern of trying to figure out who won and who lost the debate.

The bottom line is that in that game there was almost assuredly no big loser and no big winner in terms of the main event last night. That appears not to be so true when it comes to the earlier event in the afternoon, with the seven declared candidates didn’t make the cut of the top 10. In that event former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina really did have a breakout moment. And by almost every estimation and analysis she’s significantly helped her campaign in terms of that event. But it was not so much just over the issues as it was over the general impression of leadership. That’s always a part of what takes place in a presidential debate. That’s a part of what took place last night.

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One of the first things to note about the debate last night is, as we predicted, it didn’t follow any traditional kind of rule of debate. It really wasn’t so much a debate at all – it was in one sense a common interview with a very dynamic environment in which there was some opportunity for the candidates to respond to one another. And as expected the debate really was reduced to soundbites. It was expected it would be that way, and yet it seemed to be almost exaggerated in terms of its reduction by the fact that the candidates had clearly memorized some lines (lines many of them had actually used by means of testing them in their campaigns in recent days) and they stuck to the lines. Very much so.

In this first so-called debate there was basically an introduction of the candidates to the American people. That’s a very important part of what was taking place, and there’ll be many debates amd public events to come in which there will be a further process of introduction. But the dynamism of the event last night was largely dictated by the fact that Donald Trump was on the stage. The businessman, who is largely self-funding his campaign and is currently leading in terms of the populace polls, he had very much the center stage last night. And this was dramatically accentuated by the fact that the very first question at the beginning of the debate was addressed to all 10 candidates, asking if there were is anyone there who would not make a pledge that if he did not gain the Republican nomination he would not run as an independent or third party candidate in 2016. The only hand went up was that of Donald Trump indicating that he would not make the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee.

Now that’s very interesting in an historical perspective. It may on the one hand show something of the waning of the power of a political party. But it also points to the fact that the attraction in terms of this particular candidacy is not so much over the issues and is certainly not out of commitment to party but rather out of a populace surge. Whether or not that’s long-lasting remains to be seen.

Once again, it was pretty clear that there was no major winner and no major loser last night. But politics is all a matter of perception, especially this early in the campaign. And there are big questions in terms of policies and substance. But there also questions related to style and credibility and character. In terms of the event last night Donald Trump probably came out relatively even. He went in with a great deal of populace support. It’s unlikely he expanded that, given the positions that he took out, but it’s also unlikely that he cost himself much support in terms of that kind of populist element. But on matters of style, he took a very risky position last night even as he was engaging one of the moderators, Megyn Kelly, and especially as he was dealing with the issue of women.

But when it comes to the other candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush probably did not help himself in this event, largely because he was seen as the traditional front runner in terms of the nomination race, and he didn’t dominate the event last night the way a front runner generally would. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker probably also came out relatively even. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at several points last night demonstrated once again the power of rhetoric in American politics. The power of the ability to craft a message and to stick to it. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (certainly the most libertarian of the Republican candidates last night), he had the least face time of any of the 10, as reflected in the shortness of his answers. He probably also came out relatively even, or perhaps slipped a bit in terms of just even the face time allocated or taken during the debate. But he did have a very high energy moment in an exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the question of national security and the gathering of surveillance from civilians. That exchange might not have hurt and might not have helped either one, but it certainly did reflect one of the rare moments of absolute difference in policy between at least two of the candidates on the stage last night. When it came to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, like Sen. Cruz, he had a great display of rhetorical power injecting also the importance of humor in terms of the American political context. It turns out that Americans are looking for someone they want to see. Someone they want to look to, someone they want to listen to over a period of time and Gov. Huckabee’s use of humor meant that some of his lines were the most memorable of the evening. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson did not help himself much in the general part of the debate, but as the debate was coming to its closing moments he very deftly handled a question on race and then gave one of the most memorable closing statements. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, both during the debate and in post-debate analysis was probably acknowledged to have come out gaining the most from the debate last night. But that really has to be tested over how the polls respond in coming days, and most importantly how voters respond. But last night Rubio demonstrated a union of style and substance a way that clearly indicated that he was not put off his game in the debate. Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich had a decided home-field advantage, but he really didn’t play to that advantage. He probably also came out relatively even in terms of the event last night.

But to this point we’ve been talking about at least the perception of winners and losers, and there was no perception of a breakout winner and there certainly was no perception last night of anyone who lost ground because those who are viewing the debate saw something that fundamentally surprised them. The questions of style substance character, the questions of policy and position, they centered on all the candidates. Last night there were some very important moments, but they were very short and they were very hyped when it came to the media context.

From a Christian worldview perspective, there are several points we need to keep in mind. The first is that any way you look at it, no matter which candidate anyone might favor, last night demonstrated the reduction of our political discourse to exactly the kind of exchanges saw there. Which doesn’t reflect so much on the candidates as it does on the American people. Evidently the debate last night demonstrates something of our attention span as a people, and what we’re looking for in terms of the political exchange.

There just wasn’t much substance there, and when the substance appeared it was relatively brief, hot, and then over onto the next subject. And it was often reducible just to once again soundbites and memorized lines. There were some important other considerations. One of the things to keep in mind is that all the 10 candidates in the big event last night held in one way or another to a very clear pro-life position. This is complicated in the case of some candidates; Donald Trump for instance is a rather recent convert to a pro-life position, having held to a defense of abortion rights over several years.

But it is important to note that all 10 of the candidates last night demonstrated their commitment to a pro-life position. That, as I have said before, is in contrast at least one of the candidates in the afternoon event, former New York Gov. George Pataki who has long-held to and continues to hold to a pro-abortion rights position. One of the things has become increasingly clear in America’s political culture is that the great worldview divide over so many moral issues has now become institutionalized in the two political parties. Something that really didn’t happen until the late 1970s, and especially since the 1980s. And since that time there hasn’t been a Republican platform that hasn’t supported a pro-life position. And since that time there hasn’t been a Democratic Party platform that hasn’t offered a very aggressive defense of abortion rights, and of abortion under almost any circumstance. So that great worldview divide explains why it is entirely unexpected that there will be a pro-life Democratic nominee or a pro-abortion rights Republican nominee. That’s virtually impossible given the base of the two parties. That demonstrates once again that great and very tragic worldview divide over the question of the sanctity of human life in American culture.

This first debate last night deserves some pretty close attention, mostly because it was the first debate. There will be a series of these events, and there will be a further explanation of each of these candidates as they are introduced to the American people in whole new way. Folks, this is going to be a long but a very important 15 months before the election next November.

 

Opposing journalists both call for honesty from abortion supporters

Next, turning to the sanctity of human life and how the dignity of human life is faring in American culture and in the American heart and mind, especially in the context of the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos. Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times included a very important opinion column written by Katha Pollitt of The Nation, one of most liberal magazines in America. She was writing, asking the question,

“Why does the pro-choice movement so often find itself in a defensive crouch?”

Now, that’s a very interesting question with which to begin this kind of essay. Katha Pollitt is one of the staunchest defenders of abortion, and she has recently written a book in which she argues that the pro-abortion argument should be made more aggressively and assertively, and she also says, by implication more honestly in terms of pointing to abortion and simply saying ‘there’s nothing shameful here.’ She suggests that many who are trying to argue for a pro-choice position are actually undermining their argument by their squeamishness on abortion. Katha Pollitt isn’t squeamish. She writes,

“I cringed as I watched Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, apologize in a YouTube video last month for the lack of “compassion” in two doctors’ language at supposed business lunches arranged and secretly recorded by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress.”

She goes on to say that she didn’t cringe because Cecile Richards wasn’t eloquent, but because she says, of what her words said about what she called “the impossibly narrow path abortion providers are now forced to walk.” For years now Katha Pollitt has been something of an outlier in the pro-abortion movement because she argues that most of those who claim to be defending abortion rights really aren’t defending abortion rights with cogency and power. She writes,

“We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat.”

Well, that’s very revealing. It’s more revealing than Katha Pollitt knows, and we need to look at this pretty closely. Because here you have a very ardent and assertive defender of abortion rights who’s saying that it is a reluctance to make the abortion argument – the pro-abortion argument – that is actually stigmatizing abortion. This is very revealing because it shows the depth of the divide in a truly horrifying way. It’s clear that Katha Pollitt has no ethical concern whatsoever for the unborn child. And when I say no ethical concern whatsoever, her essay makes clear as her book makes even more clear, that she has no ethical concern for the unborn child in the womb. It’s simply ethically nonexistent and unimportant. Not even significant in any way. It’s really important we understand this basic divide. Because it’s a divide not over abortion with some kind of gray area between black and white alternatives. She very clearly believes that there is simply nothing wrong with abortion. Nothing whatsoever. It should be of aggressively embraced as a right and it should be virtually celebrated when a woman exercises that right. And thus, when she makes this kind of argument, we need to understand she’s really not talking the pro-lifers at all. She’s talking to those who try to defend abortion rights without talking about abortion for what it is. She’s ready to talk about it for what it is. But this is why she is an outlier and why her candor is very rare. But it also needs to be stated that her candor actually doesn’t extend at all to any physical description of an abortion.

Katha Pollitt actually does what she accuses others of doing. She evades the central question. And that’s what makes another article that ran at the New York Times of even greater importance. This one by columnist Ross Douthat, published on the 5th of August. He writes in response to those, especially at the Washington Post, who have been arguing that it’s actually pro-life to defend Planned Parenthood. It’s pro-life to fund it because Planned Parenthood put so much into family planning which means that there are fewer abortions. Thus you defund Planned Parenthood, according this logic, you actually increase the number of abortions. Columnists liket Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post have been making this argument, but she’s had plenty of help in making it as well.

First of all, very importantly Douthat debunks the statistics and points out that the logic isn’t even true. But then he gets to the basic issue here, in which he says we simply have to do with abortion as abortion. The so-called ‘less abortions argument’ for Planned Parenthood is, as Douthat says, a form of self deception that would be recognized as such in any other context. Then he writes some of the most eloquent words written on the subject by anyone in the major media in a very long time. He writes,

“Tell me anything but this, liberals: Tell me that you aren’t just pro-choice but pro-abortion, tell me that abortion is morally necessary and praiseworthy, tell me that it’s as morally neutral as snuffing out a rabbit, tell me that a fetus is just a clump of cells and that pro-lifers are all unhinged zealots. Those arguments, as much as I disagree with them, have a real consistency, a moral logic that actually makes sense and actually justifies the continued funding of Planned Parenthood.

“But to concede that pro-lifers might be somewhat right to be troubled by abortion, to shudder along with us just a little bit at the crushing of the unborn human body, and then turn around and still demand the funding of an institution that actually does the quease-inducing killing on the grounds that what’s being funded will help stop that organization from having to crush quite so often, kill quite so prolifically – no, spare me. Spare me. Tell the allegedly “pro-life” institution you support to set down the forceps, put away the vacuum, and then we’ll talk about what kind of family planning programs deserve funding. But don’t bring your worldview’s bloody hands to me and demand my dollars to pay for soap enough to maybe wash a few flecks off.”

Listeners to The Briefing, I would submit to you that those are some of the most morally clear and morally courageous words ever written by anyone in the mainstream media. And they came from a columnist at the New York Times. At least for now we can hope he holds his position after writing those words,  because he has thrown down a moral gauntlet. Not only the pro-abortion movement in general, but we have to say, to most of his colleagues at the New York Times.

American romanticization of Cecil the Lion neglects reality of danger of lions

Next, I turn to another column that also ran at the New York Times. This one by Goodwell Nzou, and it’s entitled “In Zimbabwe We Don’t Cry for Lions.” I was very surprised this article ran at the New York Times as well. Nzou writes,

“My mind was absorbed by the biochemistry of gene editing when the text messages and Facebook posts distracted me.

“So sorry about Cecil.

“Did Cecil live near your place in Zimbabwe?

“Cecil who? I wondered. When I turned on the news and discovered that the messages were about a lion killed by an American dentist, the village boy inside me instinctively cheered: One lion fewer to menace families like mine.”

Mr. Nzou then wrote,

“My excitement was doused when I realized that the lion killer was being painted as the villain. I faced the starkest cultural contradiction I’d experienced during my five years studying in the United States.

“Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?

“In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror.”

He says when he was nine years old a solitary lion prowled villages near his home. It killed a few chickens and goats and finally a cow, and they were warned as children not to play outside. He says,

“My sisters no longer went alone to the river to collect water or wash dishes; my mother waited for my father and older brothers, armed with machetes, axes and spears, to escort her into the bush to collect firewood.”

In their village just the ability to get water and food was shut down for days because of the threat of a lion. He then writes,

“Recently, a 14-year-old boy in a village not far from mine wasn’t so lucky. Sleeping in his family’s fields, as villagers do to protect crops from the hippos, buffalo and elephants that trample them, he was mauled by a lion and died.”

It’s really interesting that this young man from Africa writes about what he calls the American tendency to romanticize animals that have given actual names, and furthermore to romanticize animals in general. It’s also interesting that just in the same week a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota (he’s also the Director of the Lion Research Center there), a man by the name of Craig Parker, a report is come out on his book on lions in which he indicates that locals in Africa don’t see lions as romantic creatures. They see them,

“As people-eating cattle-killing beasts that carry out infanticide.”

Frankly my issue in raising the story is not to get into the controversy about hunting at all, or about lions in terms of exactly how they can be conserved and protected as a species. Rather it is to get to the point that here you have a young man who grew up in Zimbabwe writing about how Americans see the world very differently, at a great remove than those who are living there, who have to do with lions not as cartoon characters on the screen, or as images in terms of a video they might watch, or even an animal they may see in the zoo. No, those are living in Zimbabwe in these rural villages have to deal with lions as predators who are looking with the opportunity to gain prey, and sometimes that prey is human beings.

Sometimes it’s just the flocks that would keep a human community alive. But in any event it’s very interesting that these were living in Africa amongst the lions see them in light of what we might call Genesis 3 far more than do we. And that’s a very interesting reflection upon ourselves. They understand far better than do we directly in this case that there are creatures who want to eat us. It will not be so in the new heaven and a new earth, but it is so now.

What’s really concerning a far deeper level of course, is that there so many Americans ready to shed a tear about Cecil, but not ready to shed a tear at all for the millions of unborn babies killed an American wombs.

Robert Conquest, exposer of Stalin's murderous regime and fruit of Communism, dies

Finally as the week comes to an end, it’s important to know an obituary that was published this week in major newspapers. It was for Robert Conquest to die at age 98 this past Monday. Robert Conquest was born in the year 1917, one year before the Soviet revolution. And that’s what made his life so significant, because of his life’s work. As the Wall Street Journal reported,

“Robert Conquest, an Anglo-American historian whose works on the terror and privatization under Josef Stalin made him the preeminent chronicler of the horrors of Soviet rule.”

We owe a great deal to just a handful of prophetic voices in the 20th century who made the reality of the Soviet Union clear. Alexander Solzhenitsyn did so from within the Soviet Union, even from within its gulags. Robert Conquest did so from without the Soviet Union. His great book entitled The Great Terror made very clear that even as Lenin was estimated to have killed something between 1 and 4 million people during his rule, Josef Stalin was virtually single-handedly responsible for the cold-blooded killing and killing by famine of upwards of 20 million people. As a matter fact, putting the two Communist revolutions in Russia and China together you’re looking at efficient killing machines that almost assuredly led to the deaths of upwards of 50 million people in the course of the 20th century.

And as Christians we need to note very carefully that even as the elites in Europe and many in the United States tried to defend the Soviet Union and the Chinese revolutions, tried especially in the early years of the 20th century to defend communism, it was the worldview of communism and its reduction of the human being to nothing more than a biological accident that was a cog in the regime, that was the worldview that led to the murderous regime of Josef Stalin, and of Mao, and of others, in terms of the Communist disaster of the 20th century.

Conquest defied the elites at the midpoint of the 20th century by documenting the murderous reality of Stalin’s regime. He lay bare the in evitable fruit of the worldview of dialectical materialism that was at the foundation of Marxism and especially of Communism in the Soviet Union and later in China. Worldview matters. Robert Conquest understood that. And for his prophetic voice we should all be very thankful.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing