The Briefing 10-13-15

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First Democratic debate will feature Sanders pulling party sharply left

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Tragic counsel of doctors to delay puberty in transgender child reflects societal confusion

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Pediatricians rethink screen-time regulations for children, surrendering to reality of tech saturation

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Transcript

The Briefing

October 13, 2015

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

It’s Tuesday, October 13, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

First Democratic debate will feature Sanders pulling party sharply left

The 2016 Presidential Election in the United States comes more clearly into view tonight with the first Democratic major candidate debate. It’s going to take place tonight on CNN and is going to feature five Democratic candidates. You can’t exactly say five major Democratic candidates because at this point, there are really only two major candidates. In order to fill out the screen and, especially in contrast with the large number of Republican candidates in that debate, what you’re going to see are two major Democratic candidates. And off screen, a very important non-presence, and that is the non-presence of Vice President Joe Biden, whose potential candidacy looms large over any question about the Democratic Party’s future.

In looking to this particular debate, it’s going to be very interesting, and it’s going to be interesting because what we are seeing is the Democratic Party moving progressively—indeed, sometimes, rather quickly to the left. And we see that movement especially in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who was running, even as he is an independent officially, he’s running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Stunning just about everyone, including veteran Democratic observers, Bernie Sanders has been gaining a great deal of momentum.

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In the most recent fundraising reports of the major candidates, he was indeed very close to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that shocked just about everyone. When we look at the Democratic side, what we are seeing is the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doing her very best to move to the left, especially in terms of politics and economics. That points one of the big developments over the last 20 or so years, the left is moving further left. You’ll see the case made by many observers that the right is also moving further right, but that’s something that’s actually of more limited truthfulness, because in looking at the right, it’s clear that some of the issues are more tightly defined, but those arguments have basically been there, especially in terms of internal arguments in the public in terms of the Republican Party that been there for the better part of the last 30 years.

On the Democratic side, it’s really getting interesting, and there are huge worldview implications at stake here. Writing about what to expect in the debate, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says that,

“The five Democrats running for president will debate Tuesday night in Las Vegas, a much-anticipated showdown in which someone not onstage — Vice President Biden — will continue to loom over the proceedings as he considers whether to join the race.”

He goes on to say that his handicapping of what to expect from the four men and one woman on stage tonight, he says of Hillary Rodham Clinton that people ought to remember just how skilled she is in political debate.

Going back to the 2008 race, when she was running for the Democratic nomination against then Senator Barack Obama, observers ranked that she won about 80% of those debates, but of course, she lost the race for the nomination. That tells us that the debates are important, but it also tells us that they do not accurately predict who will win the nomination, or for that matter even, the Presidency.

When it comes to Senator Bernie Sanders, he has become the major symbolic figure of the left in America today, and that’s something that’s also interesting, because prior to Senator Sanders taking on that position, it was basically held by Senator Elizabeth Warren of the state of Massachusetts, but Warren’s not in the race and Sanders is, and Sanders is, if anything, even further to the left in terms of his described positions than is Senator Warren, and he has been, at least until recently, considerably to the left of Hillary Clinton. The interesting thing there is, of course, that Mrs. Clinton is trying to catch up with Bernie Sanders on many of these issues.

Attempting to appear closer in terms of these positions to Bernie Sanders than to President William Clinton, who also happens to be her husband. The big argument that Bernie Sanders has going for him is that he has been consistent in holding to these positions whereas Mrs. Clinton has been all over the map. When her husband was in the White House, she staunchly defended his policies. Now she is a critic of those very policies.

There is still no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, even as other issues are out there, and even as just about everyone’s wondering exactly when Vice President Biden is going to announce his decision or his non-decision, but the most interesting thing to watch is Senator Sanders. Because from a Christian worldview perspective, he offers a very candid and honest alternative to the way America is now structured and organized, and this became very clear on Meet the Press on Sunday morning of this week when Bernie Sanders was asked a question by host Chuck Todd.

He was asked straightforwardly, “Are you a capitalist?” In response, Bernie Sanders said, “No, I’m a democratic socialist.”

That will mark for the first time in any living history that a major candidate for a party nomination announced that he is or she is a democratic socialist. Indeed, it’s the first time in decades that an American presidential candidate has used the words socialist in terms of a self-designation of any form.

The great gift of Senator Sanders’ candor is that it sets before us real worldview alternatives in most respects in this case, focused on the Democratic Party. These are big issues that Americans need to understand. In identifying himself as a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders has placed himself outside what had been considered the political mainstream in the United States for the better part of the last half century and more.

We need to remember that going back to the early decades of the 20th Century, there were openly and publicly avowed socialists running for the Presidency of the United States. Eugene V. Debs, an avowed socialist, ran four times, the last time in 1920. The last significant socialist candidate for the American Presidency was in 1948, when Henry Wallace, who had actually served as Vice President under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, you had actually had Henry Wallace running as the candidate of the Progressive Party against then president Harry Truman, but when he was endorsed by the Communist Party USA, he did not disavow that endorsement, and he went down to defeat, but there is no doubt he was a major socialist candidate in the United States as late as 1948.

Yet, when you look at contemporary American politics, the word socialist has been one of the most toxic. As a matter of fact, as the Pew Research Organization and others have indicated, the word socialist actually trends with greater negatively even than the words Muslim and atheist when attached to a political candidate. That’s just in terms of observational issues. What you’re looking at here is the reality that Americans have a reflex against socialism, and that raises the question. Why?

It’s because as Margaret Thatcher, the late former Prime Minister of Great Britain said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually, you run out of other people’s money to spend.” Socialism at its heart is opposed to both private property and most especially the private ownership of the means of production, and you might you’re symbolically of a factory. Instead, socialism says that all of the means of production should belong to the people in general and that through a socialist deliberation, there should be the decisions made about how the economy is going to move forward.

Now, of course, we need to notice that virtually every socialist experiment has ended in abject economic disaster. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but one of the central reasons for that is something that is affirmed by the Christian worldview, and that is that the very virtues that make a thriving economy possible are the very virtues that are undermined by socialism, and that’s why Americans, even though they were, if ever, severely tempted toward socialism during the Great Depression, the reality is that Americans had the sense not to move in that direction, and that’s why Chris Cillizza writing in The Washington Post says that when Bernie Sanders said on Meet the Press that he is a democratic socialist, he basically eliminated any real potential that he would ever serve as President of the United States.

The more Americans came to know his positions, it’s actually, as Cillizza indicates, rather unlikely that whether had said this or not, Bernie Sanders would never sit in the Oval Office, but it is still very interesting that by any measure, he is the second most important candidate on that stage tonight in the Democratic debate, and that really tells us something. Either way, we need to note that Bernie Sanders identified himself as a democratic socialist, and thus why the word democratic. It’s because democratic socialism is the variant of socialism that says that this kind of socialist experiment should not be brought about by military force or by confiscation in terms of the communist experiment, but rather should be brought about through the democratic process. In other words, by electing socialist leaders who would then enact socialism.

That’s what Bernie Sanders has been about for a long time, and if anything, we should recognize his candor and his consistency. What’s really interesting in the race is not so much the fact that Bernie Sanders is in it, or even that he has identified himself as a democratic socialist. What’s really interesting is how the democratic party is doing its very best to move in his direction, and that in itself is extremely telling. It’s going to make what happens on the stage tonight on that CNN debate exceedingly interesting.

Before we leave that debate, we need to note that there will be three other candidates on that debate, and my guess is most of you have no idea who they are, and if so, you hold that in common with most Americans. As The Washington Post comments, Martin O’Malley is the former Governor of the State of Maryland, and as the Post says,

“No one knows who he is, so simply being on stage with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is a very good thing for his presidential campaign.”

Jim Webb is the former Secretary of the Navy, we should note then, as a Republican, under President Ronald Reagan, and then he was a Democratic Senator from Virginia. He’s now running for the Democratic nomination. Most Americans also do not know who he is, but as the Post says, the former one-term Senator from Virginia is an acerbic personality who doesn’t back down ever, couple that with the fact that he has nothing to lose, and it’s possible that Jim Webb stirs things up by going after Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

The interesting thing is that the Post describes Jim Webb as being unwilling ever to back down, but it also notes he doesn’t particularly, at this point, have any positions he appears to be running on. It is not clear at this point what exactly he’s going to stand for and not back off of. The last candidate mentioned here, who will also be on the stage tonight may be the most interesting of all, former Governor of Rhode Island, former United States Senator Lincoln Chafee.

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post says,

“Chafee is, if possible, even less well known among Democrats — and the general public — than Webb. (And, trust me, that is no easy task.)”

Lincoln Chafee was a liberal Republican when he was in the United States Senate. He was later defeated for reelection and he went on to run as the Governor of Rhode Island, a role he won as a political independent. In office, he was known as being so whacky that he opposed even Christmas trees, and when a Christmas tree was found in the State Capitol after he had said there were none, he said that even though it looks like a Christmas tree, it’s really not a Christmas tree.

As The Washington Post says, he doesn’t look like much of a candidate, either, especially since, once again, he doesn’t appear to be running on much of anything in terms of a platform. Furthermore, he doesn’t even have the backing of his own party in his own state, the state that sent him to the Senate, and the state that elected him governor.

As you watch the debate tonight, there’s likely to be some moments of interesting political theater, especially from those three candidates that most Americans don’t know, but the real issue is going to be the argument that might come between Senator Sanders and former Secretary Clinton. That’s going to be very, very interesting, and the big thing to watch is whether or not the worldview issues are actually put on stage, and then let’s watch the direction the conversation goes. Because if Bernie Sanders has his way, he’s going to tack left, and if he has his way, he’s going to take Mrs. Clinton with him.

Tragic counsel of doctors to delay puberty in transgender child reflects societal confusion

Speaking of The Washington Post and worldview issues, a very, very sad story ran yesterday. The headline is this. “Transgender at eight, Tyler remains certain he’s a boy as the world changes around him.” Petula Dvorak writing for the Post tells us,

“This doctor’s appointment was different for Tyler.

“It would be more than the standard knee-tap, stethoscope, height/weight for an 8-year-old. It could determine whether it was time for the next big step.”

“Tyler,” she writes, “is transgender.” Dvorak went on to write, and if the X-rays on his hands showed specific bone growth and mineral density, if the blood test showed that estrogen levels in his bloodstream were changing, if certain other changes were happening in his body, it would be time for,

“The medical part of becoming Tyler.”

I’m using the pronouns as they are used within the article.

According to the article, Tyler and Tyler’s parents would have to decide whether to visit the doctor monthly for shots or use a surgical implant to inject drugs to stop puberty and to keep this child’s body form looking like that of a young woman. The third grader told the doctor, “The implant definitely, the implant.” At eight years old, according to the article, Tyler is certain about only one other thing, “I am a boy,” he says. The Post has been following the story of this child for some time, and as the article says,

“Frankly, he doesn’t really want to talk about it anymore with you. Or me. Or anyone else in the binary-gender world.”

According to the article, the child had previously been known by the name Catherine, but now the child’s legal name has been changed to Tyler. The challenge is described in the article, I quote here,

“Three years ago, when transgender was still classified as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnostic manual, Tyler’s parents were trying to figure out how to let the daughter they took home from the hospital become their only son.”

Before we leave that paragraph, let’s note once again the politicization in terms of the psychiatric community on this issue, and the fact that what you have here in the period of just three years is a shift from which we are being told officially in terms of the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association that transgender was a psychiatric disease and now we’re being told that it is opposition to affirming transgenderism that reflects a psychological or psychiatric problem.

We’re looking here at a vast moral revolution that comes down to one eight-year-old child, and the future of that child, and we also understand how this big moral revolution taking place around us has now given the society what is claimed to be an entirely new way of looking at the world, of looking at human identity, of looking at gender, and of looking at an eight-year-old child. There is an internal contradiction in this story, and it appears most graphically at the end.

Before we get to the end, we need to note the discussion of the medical challenges or the medical questions that are now being faced by these parents and this child. As the Post writes,

“Medically, the puberty blockers, those are hormonal drugs to block puberty, the puberty blockers the child wants appear to do no harm.”

According to the article, normal development can resume anytime in the tween’s life simply by stopping them. Then note the next words,

“Doctors who specialize in trans kids said the puberty blockers can be lifesaving, helping kids integrate during the toughest times of teendom. They also prevent costly and dangerous surgery later in adulthood, if gender reassignment surgery is the path taken.”

“Eventually,” says the Post,

“some older teens also begin taking hormones of the gender they identify with. So Tyler would get testosterone shots.”

Then we are told later that the big issue that is faced then is that the use of these hormone therapies mean that the child becomes sterile. Just imagine what that means. That means that you have medical doctors and you have parents being told that the right thing to do is to use the intervention of these drugs called puberty blockers in order to prevent puberty from taking place, and let’s just note that if the puberty blockers weren’t used, puberty is exactly what would take place, and a child that was born a girl would become a woman, or the child that was a born of a boy would become a man, and it takes the intervention, either or surgery or of these hormonal drugs, in order to prevent that taking place in puberty and the result is that the child becomes sterile.

One of the horrifying things to recognize here is the intervention of these drugs means that the purpose for which God had made us as male and female in terms of sexuality and beyond that of procreation is now being nullified by the use of these drugs. You also need to note that even as this is called gender reassignment surgery, it doesn’t genuinely reassign gender. It does not reverse the biological process in order to lead to procreation in other terms, having been a man, now a woman, or having been a woman, now a man.

The article concludes with these words,

“At these meetings and at the transgender conventions and conferences and family weekends, Tyler is happy to talk about being transgender.All the other kids are, and he is at home. An activist, even. Once he’s back in the outside world, he is a boy. And he would like it if we all just left it at that.”

Now here’s the problem. Tyler’s now eight, if we just left it at that, as he says, if there were no outside intervention, if we just left this child on the terms the child demands, then this child would become a woman in terms of biology, not a man.

The contradiction here is not even acknowledged by the Post. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that even as they say, this child just wants to be left alone, this child is actually demanding puberty-blocking drugs, and the logic is then extended to demanding gender reassignment surgery, as it’s called, that is not leaving someone alone. This requires an enormous amount of intervention. Very powerful drugs. Very radical surgery.

The internal contradiction here is something that the Christian worldview should help us to see and make it impossible to avoid. It really isn’t possible to fulfill the promises and the ambitions of the transgender movement, and this article actually makes that point clear that at the very end, it tries to deny that the point was there in the first place.

Christians looking at the story need to respond with the appropriate heartbreak and concern. Concern over the confusion of a child and the confusion of the parents, but also the confusion of a society that is demonstrated in this news article, and the way that it ends, saying that the child wants to be left alone after the entire article was about the exact opposite.

The point the Christian worldview reminds us to see here is that it really isn’t compassionate to play along with this ideology. It really isn’t compassionate to agree with what is being demanded here. It isn’t compassionate to join this moral revolution, and at the end, we need to point out that it isn’t compassionate even to avoid seeing the contradictions that are so glaringly apparent in the single article about the single eight-year-old child.

Pediatricians rethink screen-time regulations for children, surrendering to reality of tech saturation

Finally, The Wall Street Journal was out with an article yesterday with the headline, “Pediatricians Rethink Screen Time policy for Children”. As The Wall Street Journal reports, just a few years ago, the American Academic of Pediatrics had called for no screen time in terms of digital media for children under age two whatsoever, and then for limiting the time in terms of digital media for children and teenagers to about two hours a day. According to the Wall Street Journal, the American Academy of Pediatrics is announcing this month that it is, and these are the words of the article,

“starting the process of revising its ironclad guidelines for children and screens.”

Now there again is an irony. If they are indeed ironclad guidelines, then you don’t start the process of revising them, but we are forewarned the pediatricians are about to revise their policies, and you ask the question, why? Has there been some kind of research or some kind of medical evidence or experience that has led the pediatricians to change their position? No. As this article by Sumathi Reddy makes very clear, the pediatricians are basically surrendering to what they see as reality and the inevitable.

It turns out that children, whether age two and under or older are actually having a lot of screen time far beyond the two hours that had been the APA recommendation for three-year-olds and older, and the fact is that most children under age two are also having some screen time, as well. The pediatricians say the new thing that has developed is the understanding that not all digital media is the same, that there are some forms of digital media that are responsive going back and forth that can trigger intellectual development in children, but that’s not unproblematic, as the article makes clear.

What is clear is something that from Christian worldview we need to understand, and that is that digital media is so powerful, that it’s very different for anyone to put a screen down. It’s not exactly clear where the American Academy of Pediatrics is going to end up with this new policy. After all, they’re just saying their currently ironclad policy is about to be reviewed, but what they’re really saying here is that the screen is a very powerful entity in and of itself, and as the article concludes, quoting one of the pediatricians, this is when a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, he says this,

“We want to show toddlers to teens that we don’t have to be defaulting to our screens at every moment.”

At that point, those of us who are older than both toddlers and teens need to recognize that if we want to make the point, that we don’t have to be default to our screens at every moment, then we can’t default to our screens at every moment. The screen is increasingly hard to resist, and that’s the point, but it is, Christians understand, an issue for which we are each personally responsible.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing