November 8, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 8, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine threatens removal of Senate filibuster for SCOTUS nominees
It’s Election Day in the United States, and not just any election. This is a general election, a presidential election that comes in the United States only once every four years. That underlines the importance of what will happen in the United States today, and it also for Christians underlies something that is even more fundamental. And that is the issue of stewardship. We come to understand that when we are given the franchise—that is when we are given the capacity of a vote—when citizens are enfranchised with the opportunity and the authority to make a choice and to cast a ballot, that becomes an essential issue of stewardship.
The biblical theme of stewardship is interwoven throughout all of Scripture. It begins in Genesis chapter 1 where we are told that human beings, being made in the image of God, are given a responsibility of dominion over the rest of creation. That stewardship theme is affirmed and underlined, it’s explicated and expanded throughout the entirety of Scripture. By the time we reach the New Testament, we come to understand an even deeper conception of stewardship, and we are also reminded, as the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, that it is expected, required of stewards that they be faithful. Faithfulness is thus the most important criterion.Show Full Transcript
Jesus often spoke of stewardship. He told parables about stewardship and made very clear that to be a steward is to be someone who is responsible for that stewardship. We will give an answer, even as those who are given the talents had to give an answer to the one who invested such authority in them. We also come to understand that when it comes to faithfulness, it often is not quite so easy as we might understand. That’s especially the case, I argue, in the 2016 presidential election.
No one in terms of understanding the issues of 2016 can understand that stewardship in simplistic or superficial form. We also have to understand, however, that when it comes to being given the stewardship, there is no way around it. That is to say that if we are given the capacity to vote, if we are granted the franchise by the Constitution, then we are responsible for how we exercise that vote. That also means that not voting is effectively, to some extent, a vote. That changes the percentage value, the given weight, of every other vote that is cast in the election. Thus, there’s no way out of this responsibility. This is perfectly consonant with the biblical worldview. It’s a part of what it means to be in the world but not of it. It is also something that is very important in terms of our understanding of the fact that in a fallen world, there are often no easy answers. There is no escape from moral responsibility. Christians understanding these issues have to understand that our responsibility is to go into the voting booth and vote what we believe to be consistent with the biblical worldview, with our gospel commitments, and with our conscience.
In yesterday’s edition of The Briefing, I spoke to the issues involved in the two major candidates for president: the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. Very little is to be added to that in terms of the decision to be made today.
But one thing I do need to mention, and that is something that has come up concerning the Democratic vice presidential nominee, current U.S. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. I have addressed Senator Kaine and his positions on the issues vis-à-vis his identification as a Roman Catholic previously on The Briefing. Let’s just say he stands in a very contradictory position with the teaching of his own church on questions including the sanctity of human life, as it comes to public policy, and the question of marriage and LGBT rights. But there is something else that’s also important here, and that has specific reference to the United States Supreme Court. In comments that have not received adequate attention, Senator Kaine made the statement that if Hillary Clinton is elected president and if there is also a thin Democratic majority in the United States Senate, he believes the Democrats in the Senate would move to remove the filibuster clause when it comes to confirmations of justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.
You’ll recall that the filibuster has to do with the fact that the minority party in the United States Senate can tie up debate on issues, including most nominations, without a required 60 vote super majority. The filibuster is a delaying tactic, but it can effectively delay to the point of an action not becoming possible when it comes to the Senate. But the filibuster was attacked by Democrats when they were in the majority and were frustrated that they were not able to move forward with legislation, and thus they pulled what was called the nuclear option. When the Democrats were in control the Senate under the leadership of then-Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the nuclear option meant that they effectively removed the filibuster when it comes to presidential nominations, making it possible to move forward with only Democratic votes. No Republican votes needed whatsoever. However, they did not extend the nuclear option to nominees to the United States Supreme Court.
Now what we need to note is that Senator Kaine has served notice that if Hillary Clinton is elected and if there is a thin Democratic majority in the Senate, they will move to effectively make it impossible for Republicans to block a Hillary Clinton nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The importance of down-ballot voting: Christians must steward their vote in state and local elections
This serves as an important and urgent and cogent reminder of the importance of down–ballot questions in terms of what voters will face today. Down-ballot refers to down from the original question, which is the election of a president of the United States. Down-ballot is the election of every single member of the House of Representatives; down-ballot is the election of one third of the United States Senate. In this case, that’s the most crucial question when it comes to the Senate’s responsibility of advice and consent down to the process of confirmation on presidential nominations to the United States Supreme Court. Down-ballot means in many states the election of a governor. Down ballot means a huge number of issues. Nationally and internationally, there’s no question that the most important issue before voters today is the election of the President of the United States. But it’s also important to understand that every single one of those down-ballot questions is also a vital importance.
At this point, Christians also need to understand that government at every level is invested with a certain authority. We also need to understand that in terms of the laws we encounter in everyday life, an enormous number of them, in many cases a majority, are actually established by state legislatures rather than by the federal government or Congress. Many issues, even important issues that are vital to our everyday lives in every community, are decided actually at the local government level or the level of county government. A biblical worldview affirms that every one of these levels of governments has its own particular set of responsibility, its own sphere of authority. And it’s important for Christians to understand what is at stake and how a biblical worldview should inform our electoral decisions when it comes to every level of government.
Christians must also have the judiciary very much in mind on Election Day, not only in terms of the future of the United States Supreme Court and the other federal courts, but of state courts as well, including the supreme courts of the various states. In some states, voters are actually voting for those who will sit on the state supreme court, and that’s the case in North Carolina.
On Election Day, for example, voters in North Carolina will decide, as Gary Robertson reports for the Asheville Citizen-Times “the philosophical and political balance of North Carolina’s Supreme Court.”
As Robertson writes, that balance “could shift as voters choose whether to keep a longtime justice or replace him with a veteran Wake County trial judge.”
This means that at the level of the state government, the state supreme court in North Carolina, voters here are invested with the stewardship of the same kind of question that is at the national level invested in the President and in the United States Senate. The stakes are made exceedingly clear when Robertson reminds us that it is the philosophical and political balance of North Carolina Supreme Court that’s on the ballot today in that state.
The report in the Asheville paper also carried by the Associated Press makes clear that what’s at stake is not just two different candidates, but two different judicial philosophies. The incumbent justice—that is Justice Bob Edmunds—is understood to be a conservative, and he has been identified as such.
Edmunds identifies as a conservative in the extent he says that it “refers to his judicial philosophy of following the rule of law and deferring to previous court decisions. “
It’s also clear that his challenger, Judge Mike Morgan, represents a far more activist understanding of the judiciary and a far less originalist understanding of the Constitution and statutory law. Of course, North Carolina is just one of 50 states, but in this sense it underlines and illustrates what’s at stake in every one of the states.
North Carolina is ground zero in terms of many important questions, including the American presidential election. North Carolina is one of those very rare, genuine swing states, and how the state votes in the presidential election could end up being determinative of the entire question. But voters in North Carolina also face a gubernatorial election and the election of a United States Senator. Both are crucially important. When it comes to the election of the state’s governor, the issue of the state’s House Bill 2—that is the legislation that requires students and others to use bathrooms that correspond with the biological sex assigned at birth—that’s crucially on the question. It’s not the presenting question, but in terms of the political equation it’s very much a part of the question. And when it comes to the election of the United States Senate, once again the State of North Carolina could be a crucial state, a crucial state in terms of which party has the majority in the United States Senate.
But what’s really interesting is the fact that almost everyone in the nation understands the importance of those elections. But when it comes to the election of a Supreme Court justice, it’s fair to assume that fewer North Carolina voters are really giving that much thought. But they need to think about it clearly, and so do voters in other states and local jurisdictions as well. For in electing judges and justices of our courts, we are electing a judicial philosophy. And it makes absolutely no sense to say that matters for the United States Supreme Court, but it doesn’t matter where issues are decided locally and at the state level. Judicial philosophy matters at every level, and it’s important that voters keep this very much in mind.
Euthanasia, marijuana, death penalty: Referenda give citizens opportunity to directly shape policy
Next, we also need to keep in mind that there are specific questions that will be confronted by voters in various states. The question of assisted suicide—that is legalized physician-assisted suicide—will be on the ballot in the nation’s most populous state, California, in the form of an initiative known as Number 106. Patterned after similar legislation in the State of Oregon, this would effectively authorize and legalize physicians bringing about the death of patients. It’s hard to overestimate the issue’s importance when it comes to assisted suicide. We’re watching the culture of death marching forward in various jurisdictions, and we cannot overestimate the importance of the State of California. It is not only are most populous state, but in terms of its laws and its cultural momentum, California has an outsized influence on the rest of the country. Thus, voters in California are facing questions of life and death, not only for citizens of that state, but by implication and influence of other states in the union as well. And simply from a biblical worldview, we have to ask the question, what could be more important than a question of life or death? The biblical injunction is clear; choose life.
The legalization of marijuana is on the ballot in no less than five states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts. The question in each state is a little different than the others, but the essential thing to understand here is that this is part of an overarching pattern of the normalization of marijuana. That’s a huge moral change in the United States. Once again, the most significant legislation is certainly that in California. Long ago, the state legalized so-called medical marijuana; now it would become the largest state to authorize recreational marijuana. Once again, California is a bellwether for the rest of the country.
Now one of the other things we need to note is that also in California the death penalty is on the ballot. It’s on the ballot twice. There are two different initiatives that will be placed before voters in California, and understood rightly they’re actually contradictory. One of them would shorten the appeals process in order to make the death penalty happen in terms of a faster time period between a conviction and sentencing and the actual execution. That’s largely to make a case. In California, the death penalty is so bound up in terms of automatic appeals and delays that it is effectively no longer existent except as an official matter. Someone may be sentenced to the death penalty, but it has been many years since anyone has been executed in California, but nonetheless it has hundreds of people supposedly on death row. The other initiative before voters in California would effectively eliminate the death penalty. So there you have two very different initiatives representing two exceedingly different worldviews. It will be very interesting to see if California voters approve either, or in the case of one scenario, both. In the unlikely scenario that voters in California do approve both initiatives, that would essentially put the state in the position of having a contradictory position on another question of life and death.
Understanding the third party candidates: Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Evan McMullin
By this point it’s fully apparent that a clash of worldviews ends up as a clash of ballot questions and a clash of candidacies, a clash of partisan positions and platforms, a clash between American citizens who it is clear are polarized in terms of very divergent and even conflicting worldviews on so many of these vitally important questions. But at the worldview analysis level, it’s also important for us to understand that we have been talking about the presidential election in terms of the two major party candidates: Hillary Clinton, the Democratic standard-bearer, and Donald Trump, who is the nominee of the Republican Party. But in every state, there will be others on the ballot. This is the so-called third-party question.
At this point, we need to remember a simple matter of math and the Electoral College. Under our constitutional system, it is virtually impossible, certainly extremely unlikely, that any third-party candidate could be elected President of the United States. It’s almost impossible to envision any scenario in which a third-party candidate could garner the requisite 270 votes in the Electoral College. That’s because there is a set number of states that almost always votes Democratic, and there’s another set of states that almost always votes Republican. And it’s almost impossible to imagine how it could be possible that any third-party candidates could break through those walls. But it’s not impossible that a third-party candidate could win one individual state, though that hasn’t happened in decades.
It is important to understand that third-party candidates, however, indicate something of the worldview diversity that is represented in terms of the American electorate. Two third-party candidates thus deserve our attention.
On the far left, Jill Stein, a physician who is running as the nominee of the Green Party; and in another position the Libertarian nominee, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. In both cases, we’re looking at interesting people, and in both cases we’re looking at interesting worldviews. In terms of the Green Party, this is the party of the radical left. It is likely that Jill Stein, according to polls, will only receive about 3% of the vote. But remember, when you’re talking about millions of votes cast, 3% is a significant mathematical number. That tells us that a significant number of Americans, nowhere near a majority but a significant number, hold to the radical positions, or at least are voting for the candidate of those positions, on the far left.
When it comes to the Green Party, this is a party that, though not officially pacifist, is very nearly so. This is a party that calls for a radical restructuring of the American government and of the American economy, pushing it in a socialist direction far beyond even the proposals of the candidate who ran as a Democratic Socialist, independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He ran that way, of course, in the Democratic primaries. When it comes to the Green Party, you’re also looking at a party that makes promises. Jill Stein herself referred to these promises as aspirational goals; they include housing, guaranteed housing for all Americans. It also points to a basic economic restructuring that would address what she considers to be income inequality that can be corrected by the redistribution of wealth in the United States. Now it’s unlikely that Green Party candidates will gain supremacy in any state. But what’s interesting is that just 3% could become crucial in a state in terms of a very close election. Just remember that many Democrats still fault third-party candidate Ralph Nader for Al Gore’s loss in the State of Florida in the 2000 Presidential Election. Whether or not Nader’s votes actually did doom Al Gore in terms of the Florida vote is unclear, but what is still very much a part of the Democratic memory is that it was a live question.
The candidacy of Gary Johnson running as the standard-bearer of the Libertarian Party is also very interesting in terms of worldview analysis. The libertarian worldview is difficult to define, but the Libertarian Party and the libertarian instinct in the United States has been towards less federal government, a smaller government in general, less activism in terms of the international equation, more attention to domestic issues, and the preservation of political freedom at the individual level. The libertarian worldview basically holds as one of the highest values the preservation of individual liberty. This means that compared to conservatives, libertarians believe in far fewer items of legislation and regulation related to personal behavior. Now this raises some interesting worldview issues. There is an overlap between libertarians and conservatives in terms of the fear of the reach of government and the fear that the larger the government, the greater the encroachments on human liberty and human flourishing. But where conservatives and libertarians differ is over the role of the government in upholding that which is right and leads to righteousness, even in terms of preventing behavior that is understood to be injurious to citizens.
So to look at specific issues, Gary Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico, is avidly pro-choice when it comes to abortion questions, believing the government should basically be out of the equation, holding up human liberty even to a woman’s autonomy to make the decision to kill the unborn life within her. One of the other interesting things about Gary Johnson is his position on marijuana. He’s actually involved in the marijuana business in terms of at least part of the trade or peripherals for marijuana use, and he has admitted to using marijuana—though he has, interestingly enough, pledged that he would not use marijuana while in office if he is elected president. Let’s just remember that in 1992’s presidential election, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton admitted that when he was a college student he smoked marijuana, but you’ll recall his claim that he didn’t actually inhale. No such reticence when it comes to Governor Johnson. He says that he definitely did and does inhale, but he doesn’t right now, and he wouldn’t during the time he was in office if he were to be elected. As of this morning, Governor Johnson was polling at about 4% of the American electorate nationwide.
Voters in several states have the opportunity to vote for Evan McMullin, an independent candidate and former CIA operative, who is running as a traditional conservative in terms of policies very much in line with recent Republican presidential nominees. It will be mathematically impossible for Evan McMullin today to be elected President of the United States. That’s because he’s not on the ballot in a sufficient number of states to come anywhere close to the 270 electoral votes necessary. But what’s really interesting is that McMullin, himself a Mormon, is in contention to win the State of Utah. That would be a very interesting political development. It would make history. It would be the first time in decades that any independent or third-party candidate has won a single Electoral College vote. Furthermore, when you think about how close a presidential election could be, that could be decisive in terms of the election going one way or the other. It’s unlikely, but it is still very possible.
Today, it will be fully evident, regardless of the electoral decision, that there is a deep polarization of worldviews in the United States. But it will also be clear if we look beneath the level of the headlines that there is a diversity of worldviews in this country that goes beyond even what is represented by the two major political parties. There are such important issues on the ballot today. Let everyone of us exercise the franchise, let everyone of us exercise the stewardship as best God would lead us in terms of our convictions and our conscience. And as I said yesterday on the eve of Election Day, I also say today: Let us pray for our nation; let us pray for this election; and let us without hesitation pray for one another.