June 9, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, June 9, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In race to the left, Hillary Clinton clinches Democratic nomination—but which Hillary?
We are witnessing a vast reshaping of America’s political landscape, and it’s taking place simultaneously in both of America’s two major political parties. On the Republican side, the picture became clarified a bit earlier when Donald Trump became the effective front runner for the Republican nomination and all other viable candidates exited the race. On the Democratic side, it basically came down to this week and only this week. Only this past Tuesday did Hillary Clinton, the former United States Senator from New York, the former Secretary of State and former first lady of the United States, gain the Democratic presidential nomination. She did so by winning enough delegates to claim the nomination race, but included amongst those delegates is a significant percentage of delegates who are not elected on the basis of primary votes; they are rather delegates that have their status by virtue of their position in the party or their elective office. This has led many on the side of her opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, to claim that the entire game is rigged.
But what’s really interesting in this is that the Democratic race exists at all. If you go back about a year, not to mention a year and a half or two years ago, no one really expected that Hillary Clinton would have a viable opponent running for the 2016 Democratic nomination. But a viable opponent is exactly what she faced, as a matter of fact, she still faces in one sense, because Bernie Sanders has not exited the race. One of the big questions looming over American politics this week, especially when it comes to the future of the Democratic Party even in the 2016 race, is what Bernie Sanders and his followers are going to do.Show Full Transcript
Colleen McCain Nelson and Laura Meckler, writing for the Wall Street Journal yesterday write this,
“Hillary Clinton declared victory Tuesday night in the Democratic presidential primary race, emerging from a bruising battle as the first woman within striking distance of the Oval Office.”
They continued writing,
“Her rise came exactly eight years after she ended her 2008 bid by saying primary voters had put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that prevented women from winning the presidency since the nation’s founding.”
“We’re on our way to breaking the highest and hardest glass ceiling.”
And she said that in view of her likely win in the 2016 Democratic race. Now what’s really interesting about that race is that it existed; but the second interesting thing about the Democratic race is the significant turn to the left that it represents in terms of the party. The Wall Street Journal put that on the front of yesterday’s edition with a headline story written by Laura Meckler indicating that if we know anything about the Democratic race at this point, it’s that the Democratic Party has been tugged significantly to the political left. The contrast here is drawn not between the candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but between the two candidates Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton—Hillary Clinton as she ran for the United States Senate, and then as she ran in 2008 for the Democratic nomination, and Hillary Clinton as she is now running in 2016.
Back when she was running for the Senate, she declared,
“I’m a New Democrat.”
As Meckler says,
“Her husband worked for a decade to move the party away from its liberal roots and win over independent voters. Now Mrs. Clinton touted that third-way philosophy, too.”
Then she writes,
“Mrs. Clinton touted that third-way philosophy, too.”
Back when she was running for the United States Senate and when she was running for the presidential race in 2008 she had said,
“I don’t believe government is the source of all our problems, or the solution to them.”
Meckler then writes,
“Today, a transformed Mrs. Clinton campaigns again, this time for president. On a swath of domestic issues, dragged along by a rapidly changing party and a surprisingly tough primary opponent in Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mrs. Clinton has moved to the left, sometimes reversing her positions and in other cases changing her tone in significant ways.”
Now to document this, Meckler writes the following words, and I quote,
“Mrs. Clinton has undone her longtime opposition to gay marriage. She apologized for her 2002 vote authorizing an invasion of Iraq. She backed off support for charter schools. She called for an end to the ‘era of mass incarceration,’” wich as the Journal notes was a rebuke of her husband and the crime bill that was passed under his administration in 1994.
In this race, she has come out against the TPP, as it’s known, the Transpacific Partnership, after she had praised it just a matter of months earlier. She also came out against the Keystone XL pipeline without having declared herself on that issue earlier as well. She did so only after Sen. Bernie Sanders came out actively and aggressively against the proposal. Meckler writes,
“And on Social Security, Mrs. Clinton all but abandoned her longtime interest in a bipartisan compromise aimed at extending the program’s solvency and adopted liberal promises not to cut benefits.”
So it’s really interesting in terms of worldview to watch the evolution of a party. It’s also in this case a bit even more interesting to watch the evolution of a candidate. When you look at American electoral politics, it’s not shocking that politicians sometimes change positions. But what is genuinely shocking in this case is that the evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton actually points to an evolution on the part of the Democratic Party. It is not that Mrs. Clinton is recognized as somehow trying to get out in front of a liberal direction in order to lead her party to the left. No, there is virtual universal acknowledgment that her party is moving to the left, and she is having to try to stay up in terms of that trajectory undertaken by her party.
We’re in for a very interesting set of weeks and months leading up to the 2016 election and as Peter Nicholas, writing for the Wall Street Journal yesterday, points out, one of the most interesting worldview clashes to watch is not going to be just between the Democrats and the Republicans, not just between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but between two warring factions in the Democratic Party when it comes down to the adoption in Philadelphia of that party’s national platform.
Now this is where many Christians looking at the political process aren’t sure exactly what to do with what we call a platform. But a platform is basically an open letter or a manifesto from a major political party to the electorate. In adopting a national platform, it is not the case that every candidate in the party is absolutely accountable to the platform. Rather, it is a statement of the direction and the core convictions of the party. It is a form of advertising by which the parties declare, “This is where we stand. This is how we understand America. These are the policies we would undertake this is the direction we would take the country.” You’ll notice just how basic and fundamental those questions are; sometimes when it comes to a major party political platform, it comes down to policy details; there will be some of those too. But the more general questions have to do with the trajectory of the country with the general policies that are going to be advocated by the party. But when we think of the platforms in those terms, the really interesting question is not what the Republican platform is going to contain in 2016—in all likelihood that will be very similar to what the party said in 2012—it’s going to be the decisions reflected in the 2016 Democratic Party platform.
As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, there are huge questions where there are genuine policy divides inside the party. They have to do with domestic policy, such things as the crime bill, but also something as basic as the minimum wage; there are huge policy distinctions between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and their respective supporters on questions about Social Security and, of course, national healthcare. Bernie Sanders, wants a traditional European form of socialist medicine, a single-payer system; and yet, Hillary Clinton says the United States can’t afford that. That’s a very basic divide. In foreign-policy, there are similar divides, most importantly, or at least most controversially, the divide inside the Democratic Party when it comes to the United States and our foreign policy related to Israel and the Palestinians.
Another very interesting article, by the way, in the Wall Street Journal having to do with the California primary—this one came out last Friday in The Journal. It has to do with the fact that California liberals have anticipated the so-called Bernie effect in the party, understanding that the California Democratic Party that is already very liberal is almost assuredly going to be far more liberal after the effect of the California primary and Bernie Sanders’s insurgent candidacy.
As a matter of fact, in California the big question is whether or not in the General Assembly liberal Democrats will gain a super majority, as it’s known—that is, a super majority in both houses of the California General Assembly that would allow the Democratic Party basically to rule almost as a parliamentary majority, able to adopt whatever legislation it so chose, not fearing in any sense opposition from the Republicans that would be so few in terms of elected house seats and Senate seats in California that they would be unable to block any Democratic supermajority. But then, the Wall Street Journal notes, the Democratic Party had a super majority back in 2013 before it lost it after holding it just briefly; but if it regains a super majority in 2016, as The Journal says, it will be far more liberal than the super majority the Democrats had back in 2013.
So in worldview terms, what does this tell us? It tells us that we are witnessing a major realignment in the Democratic Party. That’s the party that has been situated on the American left ever since the midpoint of the 20th century. But now it’s moving even further to the left. The other thing we have to note is that we’re talking about a Democratic process, and that means it’s not just a party in terms of elites that decided to move in a more liberal direction. There is clearly a more liberal impulse amongst voters in the Democratic Party. As a matter of fact, it’s clear that the establishment in the party did not encourage Bernie Sanders to run, but rather tried to discourage him. It’s also clear that the elites in the Democratic Party have coalesced in support around Hillary Clinton, who many assume will be a far more moderate candidate than Bernie Sanders. But Hillary Clinton running in 2016 is a lot less moderate than the Hillary Clinton running for the Senate and eventually also running for the Democratic nomination even in 2008.
So this also tells us in worldview terms that we are witnessing a major shift in worldview amongst a significant number of Americans, millions of Americans, who themselves in terms of their political thinking, ideology, and political choices are moving significantly to the left. The other thing to note here is that that trajectory towards the left has usually been accompanied in Western societies by the effect of secularization, which is to say that a move that far to the left probably requires a population that has a far less significant tie to historic Christianity. That also is something that of course to Christians must be a significant interest.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, you also see a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. And that isn’t over now that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. As a matter fact, there is no viable candidate still in the race to oppose Donald Trump. He is now going to go to the Republican National Convention this summer as not only the nominee presumptive, but as the sole choice before those delegates in terms of active candidates. But yesterday, it was clear that panic is breaking out in some very senior Republican circles. One has noted that this panic has emerged before, but it has subsided, in waves of panic followed by a lessoning of the panic as the Republican Party tries to come to terms with Donald Trump as its nominee.
But now we’ve seen in the last couple of days something we have never seen in Republican politics before. We’ve seen major elected Republican figures repudiate the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination, indeed, the presumptive nominee. The issue here is the accusations of racism against Donald Trump. Those are not new accusations, but they have come to new prominence given Donald Trump’s criticism of a Hispanic judge who is ruling in a case with which he is a party. That is a very important issue, and it is so fundamental to understanding the independence of the judiciary, on the one hand, and the impropriety of making openly ethnic and racist comments on the other that has led many Republicans to understand that Donald Trump could well mean electoral disaster, not only in the presidential race, but all the way down the Republican ticket. The open panic now evident amongst many senior Republicans is that Donald Trump will not only lose the election, but that he will basically take all viable Republican candidates down with him. And that would mean that Republicans could be at risk of losing not only the Senate, but also the House of Representatives.
From a Christian worldview perspective there are huge issues here. There are grave and fundamental moral issues. We’re talking about a candidate that has not only run on a populist platform, but a nativist platform—that is, he has held a nativist prejudiced against immigrants in the United States, and there is no time limit on this when it comes to Donald Trump. It’s not just even recent immigrants, but it is in the entire question of immigration that seems to bring about his visceral opposition. And then there have been the accusations of using the race card in the election, and rather than run from all of those accusations and prove them wrong, the really significant thing is that Donald Trump has ensconced himself in a position of resisting any call to correction and doubled down in terms of his criticism of this judge, insisting that his senior staff and campaign workers do the very same. That is what has led so many senior Republicans to understand that a moral question now requires them to separate themselves from any support for Donald Trump.
But the Republican Party soul is still here very much at stake. And no one should believe that this is a settled question. Even in the weeks and months leading up to the Republican National Convention this summer, there are likely to be successive rounds of headlines that will lead to successive rounds of panic and then that panic subsiding for some time, only to emerge again. The Republican Party has never seen anything like Donald Trump; for that matter, American presidential politics has never seen anything like Donald Trump.
There are two massively important innovations on the American political scene in the 2016 race. One of them got a great deal of attention this week. In winning the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman to become the presumptive nominee of one of America’s two major political parties. That in itself is a huge story. But the second story has to do with the absolutely unpredictable Donald Trump when it comes to winning the Republican nomination, because he has run against many of the most cherished and central Republican convictions in terms of recent electoral cycles. He has upset the equilibrium not only in the Republican Party, but in terms of the identity question between the Republicans and the Democrats.
This has led to the very interesting question raised by so many in the national media. When Bernie Sanders and his supporters consider the 2016 race, do they get in line on the Democratic side behind the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton? Or do they see her as so hopelessly tied to the establishment that they actually either fail to vote for her or they actually vote for Donald Trump? That leads to another thing that has become very clear, and that is that there is a built-up populist sentiment, an emotional sentiment in the American people that has led many of them to decide that what they want to do is basically explode the entire system. And that is why the interesting question is what Bernie Sanders supporters will do. If indeed they are just liberal, indeed on the far left, there should be no question that they would support Donald Trump, who isn’t exactly a conservative, but certainly stands for things that modern American liberalism has rejected. But the open question about where Bernie Sanders supporters will go indicates the disequilibrium in the American mind, and also in the American electorate.
"Intersectionality" may explain why Millennials are unimpressed by Hillary's historic win
Next, looking at the 2016 race and Hillary Clinton’s new role as the first woman standard-bearer for one of America’s two major political parties, Molly Roberts, writing in the Washington Post, writes about something that is perplexing to many women, especially to many feminists and to many Democrats. And that is, why do so many young Millennials, including young Democrat Millennials, including young, liberal Millennials, seem to care so little about the fact that America has its first woman presidential nominee? Roberts, writing for the Washington Post, writes this,
“A female presidential candidate has clinched a major-party nomination for the first time in U.S. history. No one seems to care — at least not many people in my millennial generation. Not even women, although they should.”
Now that statement is revealing in more ways than one. For one thing, look at the end of that sentence. She says that no one seems to care, “not even women,” and then she says, “although they should.” Now that’s really interesting. One of the things we need to watch in the media or even in public conversation is when someone says, “No one cares about this, but they should.” That’s an interesting form of moral argument. By saying that someone should care about this, you’re saying that people are missing the obvious, especially when it comes to morality. They’re missing something they should see. Molly Roberts writing here says that what they should see, especially young women, especially young Democratic women, especially those in the millennial generation, what they should see is that this is breaking a glass ceiling. It is a history making event; it is something they should celebrate; it is something they should have expected would’ve come long ago. That’s exactly what Molly Roberts is implying.
But that raises the really interesting question. Why then are so many young millennial women, including young, Democratic, millennial women, including those who identify as feminists, why are they so unimpressed with Hillary Clinton’s win? That’s because it must be explained by an even more basic political impulse, and that probably points to what we’ve been talking about already. It is probably the case when you look at this particular phenomenon, that the shift to the left is far more important to young millennial voters than the shift to a female. Now when you look at that, you realize that that’s really saying something. Because when it comes to the generations of women, especially those in the feminist movement going back to the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, the election of a woman as president of the United States was understood as a powerfully symbolic moment, and one that they see as the capstone of the feminist movement. The fact that so many younger women, millennial women in particular, don’t seem to buy into that idea indicates that they probably see gender now as a less significant issue than the basic liberal ideology that is at stake.
But Molly Robert says there may be more to it, and that is the rather postmodern worldview that now affects so many Millennials in which being a woman is only a part of the story. This is what is discussed in modern theory on the campuses as “intersectionality,” something we discussed recently on The Briefing. As Molly Roberts writes,
“College campuses buzz these days with talk of ‘intersectionality,’ the notion that different forms of discrimination interact and overlap. So to many voters of my generation, (herself a millennial), being a woman alone might not seem like enough, if you’re also white, straight, rich and, by the way, a Clinton.”
So what we see here is the argument that being a woman is not enough, at least to many young Millennials. The argument being made here about intersectionality is this: Molly Roberts would have us to imagine something like a card in which there different boxes. LGBT would be one of those boxes, and of course within that you might be able to check more than one box. An ethnic and racial identity would be one of those boxes; there are other issues of privilege as discussed now that could be representing those boxes. But when it comes to being a white, straight woman from money, that isn’t necessarily enough to impress the modern young people who have been raised, intellectually speaking, on America’s college and university campuses.
Finally, you put all this together with other research about millennials, their worldview and their voting habits, and it’s clear that many young millennials actually aren’t trying to work out of a coherent political philosophy at all. Instead, they’re more interested in what’s identified as identity politics in terms of American popular culture, and they’re looking to send a signal about just how progressive they want themselves to be understood to be. They’re making a statement by their vote or by their political support, by attendance at a rally, by the bumper stickers on their cars, by the signs they hold up on college campuses. They’re making a statement about the fact that this is who I am, this is what I believe America should become. But whether they recognize it or not, they, like every other voter going into the voting booth, will actually be demonstrating a basic worldview commitment by how they vote. That’s going to be inevitable for these young Millennials, and how they vote will tell us a great deal. But that’s also inevitable about the entire American electorate. And that larger lesson also holds.