March 9, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, March 9, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Definition of "liberal" a moving target to the left in Democratic presidential race
For the better part of the last 15 decades, this has been a two-party nation in terms of the major two parties we know today—the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. And to the two-party system, and those two very entrenched political philosophies represent something of great importance to all Americans. In other words, regardless of one’s party affiliation, what goes on in the other party is of great interest. And for that reason we need to take a closer look at what’s going on currently in the Democratic Party and to do so from a worldview perspective. In terms of worldview, the first thing we need to note is just how far to the left the Democratic Party has moved in terms of the 2016 race. That’s in comparison even with the 2008 and 2012 Democratic presidential campaigns and of course that was the year, in 2008, when President Obama was elected to office and then in 2012 when he was reelected—both times as the Democratic Party standard-bearer.
But when you look back to 1992 when then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was elected president, you’re talking about a phenomenal shift to the left from the 2016 presidential race back to 1992, and we’re talking here about Hillary Clinton running in 2016 and her husband running successfully in 1992. That’s a very short amount of time. If you then go back to the year 1960, when John F. Kennedy won the Democratic nomination and then very narrowly was elected President of the United States, we actually see that the Democratic Party platform in economic terms in 1960 is not only vastly different than the platform sure to take place in 2016, but is actually in many ways a contradiction to it. Both candidates, both major candidates now running for the Democratic presidential nomination are actually running in what can be considered as a repudiation of that party’s economic philosophy even back in 1960. We’re talking about a revolution in the matter of one or two generations, and it’s a revolution that shows no signs of reversing or slowing down. One interesting insight into this reality was made clear in Monday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times in an article by Cathleen Decker. She begins by writing,Show Full Transcript
“For all their shared views, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come to this presidential contest with very different theories of how to command the presidency, driven by the Democratic schools in which they grew up and prospered.”
So Decker begins the article by arguing that Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders actually represent two very different visions of the Democratic Party. Secretary Clinton here is to represent more of a mainstream liberal position and Senator Sanders, who actually in office right now is a Senator, is a registered independent, is a democratic socialist running far to the left of any major Democratic presidential candidate in recent memory—and that’s going back a very long time. One of the other things we need to note is that as Bernie Sanders has entered the race, Hillary Clinton has not succeeded in pulling him to the center, if indeed you can describe her position as the Democratic Party center. Instead, he has very successfully pulled her to the left fringe of the Democratic Party, and that now represents what is taking shape as a new mainstream of Democratic Party politics.
Now the other thing interesting in Decker’s article is a sentence in which she says this,
“Despite Sunday being the most openly contentious Democratic debate of the season, both candidates routinely responded to each other by using the word ‘agree’ — underscoring the fact that both are essentially liberal to different degrees.”
So here you have a rather liberal observer of what’s going on in the Democratic Party pointing out that both candidates Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders are liberals. The question is, to what degree? Decker then points to the fact that these two candidates come from very different sets of experience, and they do hold to different visions for the future of the nation and of the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton was elected president as the Democratic nominee in 1992, having moved that party more to the center of American politics. Clinton had borrowed many Republican ideas, many so-called supply-side ideas when it came to government, and ran as one who, if elected, would control the expansion of government and would take other positions that now would be anathema in his own party. President Clinton, after all, signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, an act that he later repudiated, the Supreme Court later invalidated on its way to legalizing same-sex marriage. As a presidential candidate and in his eight years in office, Bill Clinton made very clear that he intended to be to that date the most pro-LGBT president in American history, and in so many ways he was. But the political reality in 1992 through the year 2000 did not even allow Bill Clinton to be an open advocate of same-sex marriage. But, of course, later he became so and so did his wife, as did President Obama in their much-vaunted evolutions towards the normalization of homosexuality and legalization and support of same-sex marriage.
But it’s very interesting when you look at the 2016 race that Hillary Clinton thought she would be running from the Democratic left only to find that the left had moved, and that the left had moved considerably. Just about everyone watching Secretary Clinton knew that she would run to the left of her husband, certainly from where he had been in 1992. But what is now clear is that Bernie Sanders’ popularity in the race, representing a real challenge to Secretary Clinton, has moved her very considerably to the left. Where does that now leave the Democratic Party? Well, whichever candidate becomes the 2016 Democratic nominee—it looks increasingly like that will be Secretary Clinton—the party is going to adopt a platform that will call for a much larger federal government role in American public life, a much larger tax basis in order to pay for much expanded government programs. We also need to note that the expansion of the federal government, the very existence of the programs that they will support, will have a great deal to do with government’s attempt to replace the family. So many of the policies that the Democratic Party is now advancing are policies that have become very clear as a push from single women and others who are driving a political revolution that the Democratic Party is trying to ride to office. And of course revolution is exactly what Senator Sanders is offering.
In terms of Decker’s article and other very responsible analyses of the 2016 Democratic race, it has come down at this point to a choice between a revolutionary, a democratic socialist named Bernie Sanders, and a more mainstream Democratic liberal candidate. And the surprise has been how much of the energy has been on the side of Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton. As a matter of fact, the article that came out by Decker on Monday indicates that a significant number of Bernie Sanders’ supporters may not indeed even support Hillary Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee. They are so wanting revolution that they will not even support a liberal Democrat who isn’t, in their understanding, revolutionary enough. The Democratic Party’s advancing liberalism from a worldview perspective is also driven by the fact and allowed by the fact that the largest growing percentage of religious voters in the Democratic Party are among the “nones,” that is those with no religious affiliation. That is to say that it is those who hold to a more secular identity and secular worldview who are becoming predominant and influential in Democratic Party affairs.
As a matter of fact, in recent weeks we have seen headlines telling us that the nonaffiliated, the more secular, now represent the largest single religious identity among those who are affiliated with the Democratic Party. We’re also looking at a party that is joining and has driven the moral revolution and in its 2016 worldview is very clearly going to call for even an expansion of the LGBT agenda. And that, of course, gets to the contentious issue of the future of the nation as seen through the lens of the United States Supreme Court. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has raised the stakes considerably in terms of the Democratic presidential nomination race. And what you’re looking at here is not only a radical distinction between the kind of justice who would be nominated by a Republican president or a Democratic president, but we’re also looking at a radical distinction between the kind of justice likely to be supported by a Hillary Clinton, or on the other hand, by a Bernie Sanders. And that raises another issue. Just how left can this leftward swing go? There is no answer to that at this point, but it is clear that a pendulum in the Democratic Party is swinging dramatically to the left and it has not completed its arc. The mobilization of so many young voters on the part of Bernie Sanders indicates that the future of this party is considerably more liberal than even what we see now.
At least some Americans, including seasoned Democratic observers, wonder how that could be and what that might look like. And here Bernie Sanders may give us the clearest explanation. Simply look to the kinds of nations, the kinds of governments that he sees as a role model for the United States. They are, by and large, the welfare states of northern and western Europe. By no accident those also turn out to be the most secular nations on earth, by and large, and also nations that are pushing the moral boundaries in terms of the LGBT revolution and other revolutions to follow, faster and to a greater extent at this point than other nations in the world. And there’s no accident there. Bernie Sanders is himself one of the most secular candidates ever to run for public office in America. In terms of religious worldview, Hillary Clinton is well understood as a liberal United Methodist. She identifies with mainstream liberal American Protestantism. Bernie Sanders, though from a Jewish family, doesn’t identify in terms of belief with Judaism. He considers himself a largely secular figure. And there you see how the reality in that party has changed. There is no one even close to identification as an evangelical in terms of the 2016 Democratic presidential race. The worldview divide has become far too wide. The issues have become far too stark. In the Democratic Party, as 2016 makes very clear, it’s not a question of whether or not you have to be a liberal to run for president. The question is now: just how liberal must you be? And that appears to be a moving target.
Next, shifting to some of the issues in the Democratic debate on Sunday night, the Financial Times of London took note of one issue that represented a genuine disagreement between. Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders. As Ed Crooks reports for the Financial Times, it was the issue of oil, of energy, and in particular of what is known as fracking that led to a division between the two candidates. Crooks writes,
“Both contenders for the Democratic party’s nomination in this year’s US presidential election have taken strong stands against hydraulic fracturing, a technique that is essential for most of the country’s oil and gas production.”
Now that’s an interesting lede. It comes in the Financial Times, which is not exactly a conservative newspaper. But it’s pointing to the fact that in the United States, energy independence, which had long been thought to be impossible, has now become a reality and largely by what is known as fracking. The article also makes clear that fracking isn’t going to go away. As a matter of fact, the elimination of fracking would at the very least disrupt if not destroy the current American economy. But what was interesting is that Secretary Clinton seemed to acknowledge that. She seemed to say that what she wanted to do in Sunday’s debate is to limit fracking and to offer local communities more control. Bernie Sanders simply said,
“I do not support fracking.”
Now behind this are so many issues. Fracking itself is a controversial process. But it’s not a matter of controversy that fracking has allowed U.S. energy independence, and that is a very huge issue in terms of national security and also in terms of this nation’s ability to pay its bills. But there’s more going on here. The Democratic Party is wholly on board in terms of the agenda of stopping climate change, and that means eliminating carbon and fossil fuels. Fracking is, so far as Bernie Sanders is concerned, something that simply has to go. But Bernie Sanders and so many like him simply say that what they demand is an end to the use of fossil fuels right now. The big question is, how are they then going to run even something like a presidential campaign? Senator Sanders flies on planes, drives in cars, and all of this requires the very fossil fuels, the use of which he says should end right now. And then those European welfare states that Senator Sanders so admires—how are they funding, at least at this point, their welfare payments and their expansion of the state to replace so much of family life? Well, they’re doing so by selling North Sea oil to other nations. That’s not something Senator Sanders has to acknowledge. But then again, when you’re calling for an outright revolution, you really don’t have to offer that many details. And what’s really interesting from a worldview perspective is how many millions of Americans are evidently ready to support the revolution, even when they have no realistic understanding of where that revolution will take them.
Bloomberg not to make third party run, last candidate who did and got elected was Lincoln
Also in recent days, interesting news has come from a candidacy that isn’t going to happen. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said on Monday that he won’t run for president after determining it would serve only to clear the path for two candidates he strongly opposes, and they were identified as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump. Bloomberg made his announcement in a column published in Bloomberg View, one of his own websites, and he said that many Americans had,
“…urged me to run for president as an independent, and some who don’t like the current candidates have said it is my patriotic duty to do so.”
Bloomberg then wrote,
“I appreciate their appeals, and I have given the question serious consideration.”
However, Bloomberg said,
“When I look at the data, it’s clear to me that if I entered the race, I could not win.”
Now that points back to where we began in terms of the strength of the two-party system in the United States. It was President George Washington, the nation’s very first President, who in his so-called farewell address to the nation warned against, on the one hand, foreign treaties that he considered entangling alliances and, on the other hand, he warned about the development of the two-party system. But by the time Washington left office as our first chief executive, a two-party system was already on the horizon and, even as it has come with liabilities, the important thing we need to recognize is that it has actually structured the American political system for the longest decades of stability in modern political history, or for that matter, even in the history of the world. It’s important to recognize the United States Constitution has provided the longest span of constitutional government in the history of the world.
Mayor Bloomberg understands himself as something of a centrist, but we need to know that is considerably left of center to many Americans. He certainly is a capitalist as contrasted with a Democratic Socialist, but Mayor Bloomberg is also very liberal in many social ideas. He is a staunch promoter of abortion rights and he also as Mayor was an advocate for the expansion of what has been called the nanny state, getting government involved in regulations about the minutia of everyday life, including which bags one can use and even in New York City how large soda drinks could be.
In any event, Mayor Bloomberg discovered what almost every third-party candidate in America has understood. At some point they have to come to terms with the fact that they will not win, and they have to come to terms with the fact that their entry into the race may siphon off votes from one candidate leading to the unintended consequence of getting someone elected who would not even be their first choice among the other two alternatives. It was clear that Mayor Bloomberg came to that analysis. We need to note that in terms of American presidential history, the last third-party candidate in a legitimate sense to be elected president of the United States was Abraham Lincoln.
Students at elite colleges ignorant of Western and Judeo-Christian cultural inheritance
Next, a really important article by Patrick Deneen points to what’s going on on the American college and university campus. At the website Minding the Campus, he wrote an essay entitled,
“How a Generation Lost its Common Culture.”
It’s a really important article. Deneen is a professor at the University of Notre Dame. He writes,
“My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.”
That is one of the best written and most important paragraphs to emerge in this kind of essay in a very long time. He writes about a student saying they are exceedingly nice, they’re respectful, they’re decent—they just don’t know anything. Now Professor Deneen does not mean that they actually know nothing, but just when it comes to Western civilization they know very, very little—if anything at all. And what they do not know is actually what is necessary to perpetuate the civilization that has brought them to this very point, a civilization that one day will be in their hands. We’ve been watching the advancing leftist movement of the American college and university campus, a campus that has become largely secularized over the past 130 years, and a campus that is now increasingly hostile not only to conservative ideas—conservatives are very thin on the ground—but also to any idea that is deeply rooted in Western civilization. This has led to what one observer has called the American college and university becoming an adversary culture to Western culture. And that, to say the very least, is a huge concern.
Deneen writes about his students that they are victims of an educational establishment that has followed fad after fad at the expense of learning. He writes of them saying,
“They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting to run America and the world.”
But then he says, ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. He then writes,
“Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement.”
In other words, these students don’t represent to the educational establishment what they didn’t want to produce, but rather exactly what they did want to produce. Recently, articles have emerged about controversies with freshman assigned books—these are books that are assigned to incoming freshmen that are intended to be read over the summer and discussed in freshman orientation on America’s elite college and University campuses. As we’ve discussed on The Briefing, some of these books really represent the far left fringe in terms of American culture. They are advocacy books largely advocating things such as the LGBT revolution. But what Deneen and others point to is just how thin these books actually are. And contrasted with the books that would’ve been assigned to freshman in college and university in a previous generation, they are just not very challenging, and yet they are exactly what the educational establishment sees as its crowning achievement. As Deneen brilliantly writes,
“Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes ‘flexibility.’”
Professor Deneen later writes,
“Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments.”
From a biblical worldview perspective, Christians need to understand that this kind of educational system is necessary if you’re going to push the kind of cultural, social, and moral revolution taking place around us. And that’s because you’re going to have to erase the knowledge of civilization that brought us to this point. The scary thing is, of course, is that civilization is what we have to perpetuate if we’re going to endure as a nation and if we are going to perpetuate human dignity and the values that made this society possible.
We’re now looking at that adversary culture on America’s college and university campuses turning so toxic toward the very culture that gave it birth that there now is the open question as to whether students who are graduating from our universities are even repudiating Western civilization. As professor Deneen makes very clear, in many cases they’re not repudiating anything—they never really understood what Western civilization was about. They never read its classics. They do not know its history, and they are unable to enter into an intelligent conversation about the culture that has even built the very university in which they are a student. They have lost the whole idea of a university in the first place. As professor Deneen so clearly writes, they are very decent people. They are very bright. They are just not very educated, and that’s not by accident. It’s by intention, because our modern educational system, by and large, really isn’t about education in the classic sense at all. It’s about indoctrination. It’s about students who will feel right at home in the new moral revolution, because in reality, they will never have known anything else.