The Briefing 01-28-16

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Political polling mirrors American sports scene, distorts political process

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The political process is a reminder that our worldview is fundamental to how we think

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Though some declare Planned Parenthood "vindicated," the Law of God stands over law of man

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Upcoming releases from Hollywood expose an underlying worldview careening left

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Transcript

The Briefing

January 28, 2016

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

It’s Thursday, January 28, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Political polling mirrors American sports scene, distorts political process

Voting in the 2016 presidential election hasn’t happened yet, but it’s about to happen. And now as the arguments are growing sharper and, as the events of the election are coming closer, it’s all the more clear that very basic worldview issues are at stake. But before getting to that we need to talk about a distortion in the American political process, and that distortion is our reliance on polls; and polling has changed the face of American politics, and it’s changed it in ways that many Christians may not have noticed. Informed, intelligent Christians need to look at this entire pattern and we need to think carefully about what it tells us about politics and, furthermore, about ourselves.

Frank Bruni is a very liberal columnist for the New York Times, I have often on The Briefing taken issue with some of the things he has argued and written. But I am in complete agreement with them when in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times he published a front-page review section editorial entitled,

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“Our Insane Addiction to Polls.”

Bruni begins the article this way,

“Remember the poll last week that had Bernie Sanders ahead of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire by three points?

“No, you’re thinking. I’ve got it wrong. Sanders was up by 27.

“That’s true, if you’re talking about the figures that CNN and WMUR released on Tuesday. I’m talking about the ones that Gravis Marketing and One America News Network released on Wednesday.”

What Bruni goes on to demonstrate is that America is now absolutely fascinated with political polling, and that has turned the political dynamic largely into an imitation of the sports scene. There is an imitation in this sense: Americans want to know who’s ahead, right now who is gaining ground, who is losing, who is likely to win, what’s the handicap. Polling has so distorted the American political process that many Americans seem to have forgotten what the election is actually about, they have forgotten any kind of implications of policy or politics, and instead they are more focused on who’s going to win, and who is the winner in this caucus, in this primary, who is going to win, who might be a winner. In his article, Bruni wrote,

“I’d say that we’re in a period of polling bloat, but bloat is too wan a word. Where polling and the media’s attention to it are concerned, we’re gorging ourselves into a state of morbid obesity.”

Well, a public obese on polling is exactly the apt descriptor of where we are, and we should note that as the caucuses are coming up next week and as the primary season is about to begin, the polls are often how news media begin the story; it’s with polling data that they begin to tell the story and supposedly to describe the issues at stake in the election. Bruni cites Ralph Reed, a well-known conservative operative, who said,

“There seems to be an inverse relationship between the preponderance of polling and the reliability of polling.”

Bruni then says,

“We’re leaning harder than ever on polling precisely when that makes the least sense. We’re wallowing in polls even as they come to wildly different conclusions that should give us serious pause.”

In any given 24-hour cycle there can be polls indicating that Sanders is ahead of Clinton or that Clinton is ahead of Sanders with the same voters in the same electorate. There can be polling that comes out in a matter of hours that seems to be actually referencing polls that had just been released as if the polls themselves are being used by people to indicate who they should choose as a candidate or say they might choose in order to pick a winner, as if this is a horse race and what we’re about is gambling.

Frank Bruni gives an excellent illustration of why all of this could be entirely misleading as he writes,

“Real Clear Politics average of polls in the Kentucky governor’s race had the Democrat, Jack Conway, ahead of the Republican, Matt Bevin, by five points.

“Bevin won by nearly nine.”

As Ralph Reed pointed out,

“That’s 14 points off.” But he says, “Everybody shrugs and moves on down the highway.”

Bruni says,

“There are explanations for those shrugs, and they speak to the quirks and flaws of political journalism in a wired, revved-up world.”

He says what’s going on here is that everyone thinks they have to have a new poll with new polling data in order to satisfy the public’s insatiable appetite for knowing who’s ahead right now, this hour after this debate, after that appearance. But Bruni gets to the heart of the problem when he writes,

“There are consequences, too. An obsession with polls and a quickness to weave narratives around them bolster certain candidates and retard others, and could well affect the outcome of this presidential election.”

Here’s a really horrifying thought. What if a candidate eventually appears through the primary and caucus process who is not the choice of the preponderance of voters based upon position in character and convictions, but rather is perceived to be the one who is the inevitable winner simply because of polling data that could be wildly flawed? As a matter fact, it often is wildly flawed. Ralph Reed’s onto something, as Frank Bruni recognizes, when he points out that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the intensity of polling and the number of polls and the reliability of those polls. Very, very interestingly, at the beginning of this political season, the most famous name in polling, that is Gallup, announced they would not be doing these daily candidate tracking polls because they no longer had confidence they are reliable.

Many years ago, the late Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, pointed out that Americans were increasingly more attracted to pseudo-events rather than to real events. They were more interested in spectacles than in events of substance. This polling fascination is another aspect of this. Americans may be absolutely fascinated with polls, demonstrating an almost insatiable appetite for polling data, when the data tells us relatively little and perhaps even nothing, or worse than that, it might be actually misleading. Christians operating from a biblical worldview—we have to be perhaps among the last people on earth who keep reminding ourselves and our neighbors and everyone within our hearing that this is really about character and conviction. It’s about policies; it’s about politics; it’s about how a candidate will govern, not how a candidate may or may not be leading in the polls at any given moment.

The political process is a reminder that our worldview is fundamental to how we think

Next, in terms of the intersection of worldview and the national election, it’s very interesting to look at a report that came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. It is an entire pullout section in one of the nation’s most influential newspapers, and it’s all about election 2016 with some really fascinating data. One of the articles in this section includes this,

“A Portrait of the Parties.”

Underneath it says,

“What the Democratic and Republican coalitions look like and how they have changed.”

Now in terms of a worldview analysis of the big issues before us, it tells us a great deal how the two big political parties in the United States have both coalesced around a certain set of worldview issues, a certain worldview in general terms, and how both are now very well identified either on the left or the right, either as liberal or conservative. The distinction on America’s political map whereby we’re now accustomed to seeing red states that lean Republican and blue states that lean Democratic—it’s now so ingrained that we take it for granted. But what we see in this big section in the Wall Street Journal is that there are indeed vast worldview issues that separate the two parties in general terms. The coalition behind the Democrats includes those who are social justice voters—according to the Wall Street Journal—union supporters, environmentalists, and ideological outliers. Importantly, this is a very interesting understanding of how the Democratic coalition has come around. The coalition would include labor union supporters—that’s been long true of the Democratic Party, especially of the Democratic Party—but they have been joined by those whose primary worldview interest in an election is either issues that are related to what is defined as social justice or environmentalism and only a minority in the Democratic Party are identified as ideological outliers. Only about 18 percent of the party fit neither of those previous three distinctions, which is to say there aren’t that many conservatives left in the Democratic Party.

On the Republican side, it’s almost the mirror opposite. The three divisions that the Wall Street Journal’s research indicates in the Republican coalition is between Trump voters, social conservatives, and establishment conservatives or establishment centrists. The Trump voters are defined as: most don’t have a college degree and oppose increased immigration and trade; the social conservatives are defined as: typically identify as very conservative and oppose gay marriage and abortion; and establishment centrists, they’re defined as being generally more moderate tending to support candidates backed by party leaders. That last group, that is the establishments, about 29 percent of the Republican electorate according to the Journal, 37 percent is made up of social conservatives, by far the largest group amongst the Republicans, and the Trump voters as defined right now are about 33% of the party. But then the Wall Street Journal in a subsequent section takes us further into how worldview actually shakes the American political landscape, because for instance, when it comes to the religious “nones,” those who are more secular, as the Journal says,

“…those with no religious affiliation, the most secular Americans have quadrupled among Democrats just in recent years.”

That is to say when compared with 40 years ago, the number of seculars in the Democratic Party is four times as large as it was then, even in the party’s base. On the other hand, the vast majority of Republicans identify themselves as some sort of conservative. Now that conservative worldview may breakdown into those who are more traditionally conservative, those who are more libertarian, but as you look at it, it still tells us that the American electorate is showing something very important in terms of worldview. Worldview determines politics, that’s a very basic principle. But at this point, before any vote has been taken, it’s also important that Christians recognize something else. Worldview is more fundamental than politics. That is to say that we eventually vote what we believe. We eventually bring our political actions in line with our worldview. Our worldview is prior, and if we do not understand that, we set ourselves up to confuse not only the larger American political landscape, but to confuse ourselves and our own responsibility as Christians in the voting booth. We have to understand that before we think about the nation, before we think about the election, before we think about any electoral choice, we need to be very clear about what we believe about God, about truth, about the reality of human beings, about what’s broken in humanity, and what government can do and what government cannot do. We need to keep in mind understandings of human dignity and human liberty, of the sanctity of human life. We have to keep all of this in mind because eventually that’s what must inform our vote.

The Wall Street Journal is writing from an entirely secular perspective, but it should tell us a very great deal—that is, the Wall Street Journal and its team of editors and reporters try to come to terms with the 2016 election before a single vote is yet cast. They are looking at the most basic worldview issues, understanding that they explain the political behavior. They eventually explain the political choices. Eventually we will know what our worldview is by how we vote. And in that sense, every election, especially every national election is a giant Rorschach test of sorts on the American people, revealing the worldview of at least a majority of voting Americans, or perhaps putting it in biblical terms, we should say this: by their votes we shall know them.

Though some declare Planned Parenthood "vindicated," the Law of God stands over law of man

Next, yesterday, we talked at great length on The Briefing about the situation in Houston with a Grand Jury that brought indictments, not against Planned Parenthood, but rather against the videographers that had exposed Planned Parenthood’s business of ripping apart babies in the womb, strategically destroying unborn infants in order to retrieve organs and tissues and then being reimbursed financially for that very business, that horrifying business. As I said yesterday, the legal system will have to adjudicate the matters of law on both sides of this equation. But what’s absolutely vital for us to recognize is that Planned Parenthood has admitted to tearing apart babies in the womb; it has made that a central part of its business. It has admitted the fact that its senior national medical director was actually filmed talking about strategically crushing above and below vital body organs in order to obtain them after an abortion. Planned Parenthood, you’ll remember, acknowledged what was going on in that sense and apologized for the kind of coarse, insensitive language that its medical director used.

But what we’re looking at here is the reality that Planned Parenthood ripping apart babies in the womb was found by a 12th state, or at least in this case by a Grand Jury in Texas representing the 12th state, to have found that Planned Parenthood was not breaking the law in so doing. But my purpose in raising this today is to point to an editorial that, very predictably, if sadly, appeared yesterday in the New York Times. It is the lead editorial, here’s the headline,

“Vindication for Planned Parenthood.”

Listen how the editors begin,

“One after the other, investigations of Planned Parenthood prompted by hidden-camera videos released last summer have found no evidence of wrongdoing.”

Now let’s be very clear about what’s going on here. Here you have the New York Times triumphantly celebrating what it calls,

“Vindication for Planned Parenthood.”

What is that vindication? The vindication supposedly is this: a Grand Jury in Houston, Texas found Planned Parenthood guilty of no wrongdoing. What’s the definition of wrongdoing here? The definition undertaken by the Grand Jury, as any honest assessment of this would represent, is that the Grand Jury found that Planned Parenthood—though aborting babies, though killing them in the womb, though removing tissues and making them available for some financial transaction for medical research—had not violated the law. We’re now living in a world in which that is now described by the New York Times as,

“Vindication for Planned Parenthood.”

This is where Christians need to think really carefully. In what kind of moral world is it possible to write an editorial in the most influential newspaper in this country in which the editors claim that the lack of an indictment from this Grand Jury in Houston means that Planned Parenthood has been vindicated? Let me read that sentence one more time. It’s one of the most haunting sentences I’ve read in the media in a very long time. I quote,

“One after the other, investigations of Planned Parenthood prompted by hidden-camera videos released last summer have found no evidence of wrongdoing.”

There are times in which we need to step back and look at a statement like that, a single sentence in an editorial, and ask the question, what kind of worldview could possibly be behind this? It is a worldview that sees no wrongdoing when the senior medical director of Planned Parenthood talks about crushing a baby’s body above and below a certain cavity in the body in order to obtain the tissues and organs without injury, killing the baby, dismembering it, tearing it apart in the womb. What kind of worldview can then claim that there is,

“…no evidence of wrongdoing”?

It is a worldview that actually is premised upon two things we need to note very carefully. In the first place, it is a worldview based upon something called legal positivism. That is a worldview that says if it doesn’t break the law, it’s not wrong. This is where the Bible has to come back and inform our worldview that there are certain issues of right and wrong, of wrongdoing or of right doing that are prior to the enactment of any law. It is human law that is judged by the law of God, not vice versa. In this case it may be, lawyers may argue, that Planned Parenthood technically did not violate the law, but the big issue that Christians understand is they have violated the law of God in destroying an image bearer in the womb, doing so by the multiple hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions, and now we know even coldly, tactically destroying those little bodies in order to obtain tissues and organs for medical experimentation.

Christians can never base our final moral judgment, our ultimate moral judgment, on any form of legal positivism. We cannot assert that merely because something may be technically legal or illegal that that settles the issue of right and wrong. Before Christians ever make moral judgments according to the law of man, we have to be very, very ultimately mindful that prior to that is the law of God, and it is the law of God that will judge all human laws, not the other way around. The second thing this demonstrates—the worldview behind that kind of statement—is an assertion that human autonomy, when it comes to a woman’s so-called right to choose, is so important, it is so ultimate, that every other interest has to yield, every other right has to give way; and that most importantly as we understand is the right to life of that unborn human being in the womb. And so the worldview behind this would assert that our human autonomy is so paramount that there is no wrongdoing in terms of killing an unborn baby in the womb. You look at a sentence like this, and there’s an entire editorial that follows, and it tells us where we really stand as a country. That’s the most chilling aspect of this. This isn’t just about Planned Parenthood; it isn’t just about a Grand Jury in Houston, Texas; it’s not even just about abortion, as if you could say that. It is about an assault upon the authority of God and the law of God in the name of human autonomy and the law of man. One day we will answer for the reality that we are a people with laws like these.

Upcoming releases from Hollywood expose an underlying worldview careening left

Finally, sometimes Christians must wonder, does worldview undergird everything? And the answer to that, of course, is yes. Evidence of that comes yesterday in the pages of the Financial Times, a very influential international newspaper published in London. The headline of the article by Danny Leigh,

“Has U.S. cinema taken a turn to the left?”

The interest in the paper in this article is in looking to upcoming releases in Hollywood and pointing out how many of them celebrate the political Left, even the radical Left. As a matter of fact, it points to one movie in particular, a movie called Trumbo which, as Leigh explains, is a biopic about the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, and in the movie the actor as a father speaks to his daughter when she asked if she, like he, is a communist. The father then says to her,

“‘If you had a school mate who didn’t have lunch, would you give him lunch but then charge him interest in order for him to eat?’ She said, ‘no.’ ‘Well then,’ Trumbo twinkles, ‘you’re a communist.’”

It’s sometimes hard to shock the English about American cinema, but real shock seems to be registered in this article. Leigh writes,

“Feel free to take a moment to digest that. In fact,” he says, “the film’s politics are largely cosmetic.”

But then he says,

“It’s still a jolt. A big broad comedy drama about a grim chapter in Hollywood’s own past, the point in the 1940s where hundreds of left-wing movie professionals were hounded out of the business. It’s not a story U.S. films often tell”

—here are the crucial words—

“…at least not with an actual Marxist front and center”

You see, there’s the conundrum in this article. It says that it was a dark chapter in Hollywood, when so many left-leaning people in Hollywood were, according to the article, hounded out of the business. They were hounded out of the business because they were accused of being communists even though most of them denied being so. But that’s the whole point, because this movie is about a communist who proudly claimed to be a communist, and that’s why the Financial Times finds it very interesting. Hollywood, the Times tells us, is now ready to tell the stories of communists and to celebrate them.

Leigh suggests there might be a lot going on here. He says,

“Might all this be a bubbling up from the psyche of a newly radical America?”

As Christians must understand, there is no value-neutral entertainment. There is no worldview-neutral entertainment. There is no entertainment that doesn’t have, in one way or another, a worldview behind it, underneath it, and coming through it. It is no surprise that Hollywood leans left, but it might be a surprise indeed that Hollywood is leaning so left that it is ready to tell stories about communists and admit they were communists.

 

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing