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David French: Our Religious Freedoms Are Not Hanging by a Thread

January 17, 2023
Notes
Transcript

New York Times-bound David French tells Charlie Sykes how he re-thought same-sex marriage, how he felt he was living in a bubble, and how religious liberty is more strongly protected than it’s ever been. Plus, the inevitability of George Santos.

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This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:00

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  • Speaker 1
    0:00:46

    Welcome to the Bullework Podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. It is Tuesday, January seventeenth, and we are fortunate enough to be joined once again by our good friend David French who is about to make a big move later this month will become the latest opinion columnist for the New York Times, David. Congratulations first of all on that. Thanks.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:09

    I’m incredibly honored
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:11

    and grateful for the opportunity. Yeah. That’s gonna be a big change. So how many times will you be riding for the times? Be twice a week.
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:18

    I’ll have a newsletter and I’ll have a column. You know, the column will be, you know, more your eight hundred to thousand words kinda normal op ed length and the newsletter will be where I can really explore things. So it’ll be very similar, you know, to the stuff that I write about now. So I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:36

    Although the New York Times Slack may be a little bit different than the dispatch. Do you have any preparation going as the former national review evangelical Christian conservative free speech advocate into the New York Times. I mean, are they gonna give you a Barry Weiss’s desk? I mean, what’s it gonna be like? You know, I don’t know.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:58

    I don’t know. I mean, I
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:59

    have some just normal job change apprehension. You know, I think every every new thing is different and often different in ways you don’t expect it to be different. So had some trepidation on the left Master of View to join the dispatch. After all, it was a startup, you know. I mean, you you know how that is, the Bulwark, was a startup not long ago also.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:19

    And — Yeah. — so you have trepidation when it’s a startup, then you have trepidation when you’re moving to New York Times is about as opposite from a startup as you can get. That’s pretty safe. Place with a huge, you know, huge reach and yeah. So there’s just always gonna be natural apprehension whenever you do something new like this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:38

    Well, congratulations. It is a fantastic move. It’s a fantastic move by The New York Times to hire you. It’s a great move for you to go to the New York Times. So I wanna talk about some some big serious, cosmic issues with you, David.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:51

    But But instead, I wanna start with George Santos or whoever the hell he is. Okay. Okay. So I I I know by now it’s it’s become kind of an old story that George Santos is a chronic sociopathic liar, but there’s one sound bite that really jumped out at me. Really caught my attention.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:08

    I don’t I don’t know whether you’ve heard this yet. The audio has has emerged from a twenty twenty interview. This is with the first time you ran for Congress, he’s on a local radio station, and he’s talking about his brilliant career playing volleyball for Baruch College, a school that he never even went to, but I want you to listen to his discussion. This is George Santos or Anthony DeVolder or whoever the hell he actually is. Talking about his volleyball stardom and his not one, but two knee replacements.
  • Speaker 4
    0:03:47

    I actually went to school on a on a volleyball scholarship. I did. I did. Yeah. When I was in Baruque, we were the number one volleyball.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:56

    You guys are in Baruque. Did you graduate
  • Speaker 4
    0:03:58

    from there? Yeah. So did I did? I did. So did I Very cool.
  • Speaker 4
    0:04:01

    Very cool. Very cool. Very cool. Very good. Very good professors who don’t show their bias, which is which is very interesting, but that’s a whole another conversation.
  • Speaker 4
    0:04:09

    So it’s funny that we went to we went to to play against Harvard Yale and we Blade them. So when you were champions across entire Northeast forge or every school that came up against us, they were shaking at the time. And it’s funny. I was the smallest guy, and I’m speaking to I look, I sacrificed both my knees and got very nice knee replacements meal replacements from each of that playing volleyball. That’s how serious I took the game.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:37

    Well, that’s how serious you’re taking politics as well. Remember this name folks, George Santos, Oh, yes. Remember? Maybe worse. Oh, yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:46

    Now I
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:46

    think David, what struck me about that was the pure enthusiasm with which he told one complete lie after another. It’s not just that he’s saying these things or embellishing he’s, like, totally into the complete fiction of it.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:03

    Oh, he’s spinning out a a tail. I mean, this is not just simple. I play volleyball. Volleyball specific teams were shaking and
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:11

    our
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:11

    — We believe dominant. — I had knee replaced — Two. — two knee replacements. Not just one. Two knee replacements.
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:18

    Yeah. The other thing is the enthusiasm and and boosterism of whoever’s show he’s on. They’re obviously so super encouraging of him. Boy, that kind of sums up the kind of the right wing media environment a lot. It’s just boosterism,
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:32

    man. It’s just boosterism. And and and apparently a lack of any skepticism about these claims. But it is true. I suppose that’s the sort of irony at the end of that that he actually does take politics seriously as he takes his his star turn as a volleyball champion.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:49

    But yesterday, I I described George Sandoz as like it’s like peeling this onion of lies and deceit and sneeze. And it gets gets worse and worse and worse. Yeah. And, you know, now I think it’s becoming obvious that, I mean, there’s more to this story. We don’t know what the story is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:05

    I mean, the sleazy Ponzi scheme to the Russian money. But you step back from it and you realize you know that he really is a creature and a personification of our politics. Not just the vulnerability of our of our democracy to someone like him. But, you know, for people who are looking at him and say, how did how did we end up with George Santos? In congress.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:27

    Like, you know, nobody could have seen this coming. Could they,
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:30

    David? Nobody could have possibly seen George Santos coming. George Santos was an inefficibility. I think that’s the better way to think about it. It was inevitable that we’re gonna end up with somebody like George Santos.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:43

    And the reason why is inevitable is because the Republican Party made an intentional conscious choice to abandon any concept of character. In its political leaders just to toss it over not just to toss it overboard, but to mock and vilify people who retained any kind of desire for character and leadership. So and this is a product of the Trump years. You’re a sucker. If you insist on character.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:13

    You you’re the problem if you insist on character. And so what ended up happening is to attain political prominence in the GOP since Trump came down this layer in twenty fifteen. Characters been an impediment. And so when that’s gonna happen, when you’re gonna create an entire culture from the top down that is moving and exurably in that direction, where you’re gonna be punished. It’s not just that character is optional.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:41

    It’s that you’re gonna be punished. You’re gonna be vilified. You’re gonna be spies, if you possess and demonstrate spine. Really, at any point, at any point. For example, we’ve got representative Klinschoff from Texas who joined in some of the Stop The Steel nonsense.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:58

    I believe he signed on to or joined in with this utterly insane lawsuit that was designed to overturn the election and then jump ship off of it, you know, after January sixth and voted to certify Well, who’s gonna be chairing the House Armed Services Committee? Somebody who didn’t vote to certify the election instead of him. You know, it’s like, you’re punished. You have a punishment if you show character at any stage. And so this is gonna attract Charlie a certain kind of character.
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:29

    They’re gonna say, oh, well, this is where somebody like me can thrive. It’s in politics. And so Santos is an inevitability, the ascension of Marjorie Taylor Green from sort of despised or some money you were embarrassed by and thrown to the back bench with no committees into the selfie with McCarthy after the speaker vote to I mean, all of this is an inevitability when you say character not only just doesn’t matter or isn’t relevant, that character is an actual impediment. And that’s where
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:04

    we are. Yeah. I wanna underline that point. It’s not just that that conservatives and Republicans made that pivot back in two thousand fifteen, two thousand sixteen after a decade of saying the character matters to say no, winning is all that matters. It’s not just that they decided the character doesn’t matter.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:20

    It’s that they’ve made it explicit that if you prioritize character over winning, you are a cock. You’re a cockservative. And they’ve saved some of their their most victory I like to stain for anyone who says, okay, I know you want your tax cuts. But is it worth this price? Because this has been deeply internalized.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:43

    All it really matters about to where Sandoz is that is one of the votes they need to keep control of Congress. And as long as he votes the right way, they may go through the motions of saying, yes, the lying, and then the corruption is is is bad. But and, of course, they have this, you know, incredible armory of what about isms to play as as well. So it does become inevitable when you destroy the immune system and you create this kind of post shame environment where you’re likely to be attacked or destroyed for raising the question of sleazing more likely to be re be excommunicated for that than for being sleazy yourself.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:21

    Right? This is the story of the last seven years. It is a story that if you raise character as an independent concern, then you are attacked. You are the problem. You are a cock servitive.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:34

    You are part of the old regime. You are part you you name it. And to say that that has been a reality on the right is not to then say that the left has it all together. Of course not, but it is an absolute reality, especially, Charlie. Now, this is something where if we’re talking to and we’re talking about in particular the online right.
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:57

    So you’ll have regular Republicans sort of out in America who this would be news to them that character doesn’t matter at all. Some of them would say, well, wait, I just held my nose with Trump or whatever. Right. But and the online right in this world where creating the culture of the new right that is absolutely relentless character is a sucker’s game. It’s a it’s a fool’s game.
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:21

    And it’s so important for those people who are not familiar with this culture. To really understand it. And this is how you get where you are in this party where Marjorie Taylor Green is such now a prominent part of it where George Santos, you know, look, the consensus so far, although I am glad to see some New York Republicans saying he needs to resign. The consensus so far seems to be to just sort of throw your hands up in the air. And one of the reasons they’re throwing their hands up in the air is that they know and understand, well, what’s the line here?
  • Speaker 3
    0:11:54

    Because we’ve got a lot of people who’ve really lied a lot And so if you say that lying is gonna disqualify you, where are you going to stop? I mean, that’s part of the problem is that The slippery slope has slipped so far down that George Santos is like an incremental change. If you decided that everybody’s a liar, everybody is corrupt as as a way of rationalizing your own liars and
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:20

    corrupt sociopaths in your caucus, it becomes very, very difficult to draw that line. It becomes almost impossible, well, particularly a party that still is pretty much a cult of personality for Donald Trump. We raise a kind of interesting paradox about the Republicans out in the world who would not explicitly say character doesn’t matter. They would hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump. And yet, as you point out, you know, when it comes to politics, this has become normalized.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:48

    But the paradox is that most of these people, the voters. Now I’m not talking about the Washington people or the people inside the, you know, cynical, right wing media ecosystem. But, you know, people out in the real world that none of them act or believe that in their actual lives. There’s kind of a bifurcation. Right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:04

    Of course. People who are good and decent and who want to be, you know, honest and hopefully raise their children in a certain way and would never tolerate this in their personal life, in their business. And yet when it comes to politics, national
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:18

    politics, they’ve decided that, yeah, the winning is more important than than being a good person. Yeah, so, you know, a couple of things have happened. One, for the people who know what these politicians are like, truly, which is actually a smaller percentage than you might think for reasons we can talk about. But the people who know what they’re truly like and vote for them anyway, have almost created this weird moral system and politics that they again, as you said, Charlie, don’t apply anywhere else. And that very weird moral system is that the stakes are too high for character.
  • Speaker 3
    0:13:52

    Right. Now, in no other context, In no other context, would you dream of saying that? Because in every other context, when the stakes get really high, character counts all the more. But in this zero sum game where you hate the Democrats or if you’re a Democrat, you hate the Republicans so much. That the very idea that one of the hated Democrats could become a representative, a senator, you name it, is such an anathema that the character test has to fall by the wayside because they’d rather have somebody who is actively corrupt as Santos is, for example, voting for the quote right policies.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:36

    By the way, I mean, policy is like a secondary concern other in many parts of the right now. But anyway, voting for the right policies than they would to ever consent to having somebody evil like they portray or think of the democrats in their mind as evil actively evil, they would rather do that and they would rather have that corruption that garden variety lying, even though Santos is more than garden variety, then they would have that the quote unquote evil that they perceive from the other side. And so you end up in this world where in politics, when you get important enough, now the threshold for importance is lowering because used to remember when they said, well, look, the presidency is so important because of the Supreme Court. Yes. Because the Supreme Court, all of that And then it became like during the Roy Moore years for or the Roy Moore race for an awful lot of Republicans.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:29

    Well, the junior senator for Alabama serving a half a term is so important that. And then it’s, you know well, but, you know, this Georgia legislative district or this legislative district in in New York. I mean, you really can’t give that to the Democrats. And notice how the threshold just lowers and lowers and lowers and lowers. To the point where it’s any politician of any stature at all, it’s just unthinkable to hand the race over to the other side.
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:01

    But fortunately, at least from these swing state statewide races, there were enough voters who said of the Kerry Lakes of the Hershel Walkers, of the Doug Mastrianos of the world, no, thank you. No, thank you. And you know, that sent a message for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, should be able to hear and see. Apparently, they went to the
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:22

    dead letter outlet, but you remind us that if you’ve decided on this binary choice that leads you to think that Hershel Walker belongs to the United States, then you should not be surprised when there are people who think that George Santos should be in in Congress. These are long winter nights, and one of the highlights has to be when you have that first experience of climbing into bed with bowl and branched. The way they feel after washing the quality of the products, I mean, it helps you sleep better at night. The sheets look fantastic and they feel so incredibly soft. We chose the Earth tones and we gave Bullenbrand and Sheets’ gifts over the holidays, and I have to tell you that those gift boxes were one of the highlights of our Christmas season.
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    0:18:09

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    0:18:24

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    0:18:30

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  • Speaker 1
    0:18:41

    of of these strange sort of reversals in American politics. I wrote in my newsletter today about the apparent plan of House Republicans to play a game of fiscal chicken with the raising the debt limit. You and I are old enough to remember that this has been around a long time. This is pre Trump. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:00

    I mean, this goes back a two thousand eleven where it was a complete disaster, it was a complete failure, even hinting at the possibility of death the fall, will tank the markets and raise interest rates. And yet they keep doing it. Frankly, David, it strikes me now. I’m not sure I fully recognize it back in twenty eleven, but is there anything less actually conservative than talking about remigging on debts you are obligated to repay or flirting with the idea of shutting down the government that you’ve sworn an oath to run mean, there’s nothing conservative about it. I mean, there’s it’s radical.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:36

    It’s burning it all down. It’s, you know, tea party jackup in. But there’s nothing conservative about even hinting at the possibility of being a deadbeat on the national death. Well,
  • Speaker 3
    0:19:46

    and it’s unconstitutional still kidding. So a lot of people don’t know this, but The fourteenth amendment section four says this. The validity of the public debt of the United States authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services and suppressing insurrectionary rebellion shall not be questioned. The validity of the public dead of the United States authorized by law shall not be questioned. That seems
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:13

    relevant. That’s pretty
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:16

    relevant. That’s pretty relevant, Charlie. You know, look, I’m I’m gonna admit, I’m gonna cop to being wrong about something here. And I’ve cop to being wrong about a few things in my life. But here’s one, I genuinely, going back to the beginning of the tea party, believe that the tea party at its heart was an intellectual constitutionalist movement that was concerned with fiscal responsibility.
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:43

    You know, when for a minute there, when the tea party started, I don’t know if you remember this, Charlie, but the HyEX Road to SURFdom. I do jump back up to Amazon charts as all of a sudden people were learning more about you know, Austrian school economics and pocket constitutions were handed out everywhere at tea party gatherings. And there was this sense that existed that, whoa, we’ve unlocked a mass movement around fiscal cold responsibility and constitutional governance. This is exciting if only they had read these books they bought. There were some people and I talked to them who were fascinated by the history of the constitution and the founding and the bill of rights and the civil war amendments and really dove into, you know, a hayek and
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:30

    I
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:30

    met him. I talked to him. They were real. Sadly, almost to a person these individuals became more trumpy than Trump. Eventually, what you really realized, what was animating the tea party, wasn’t constitutionalism.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:43

    It was really anti Obamaism. Or anti Leftism and constitutionalism was seen as the best vehicle for that until another vehicle came along in Donald Trump. And when he was seen as the more effective anti leftist or anti Democratic Party force, they jumped on that train even though in many ways was utterly incompatible with the previous path they were on. For example, Trump, you know, if you go back and you look at previous presidents, when you have economic expansions, you tend to have lower deficits. With Trump, we had economic expansion and higher deficits, and that’s not counting the pandemic year when, of course, and none of the tea party people who claimed that this was their their
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:29

    animating principle none of them cared. They mocked you if you cared. It was a tell. Yeah. Now I remember this period so well and there was that initial burst of idealism.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:41

    And of course, one other thing happens there, which is, of course, that these grassroots causes are immediately hijacked by the gifters, by the people who wanna turn into an enterprise. And the gifters, of course, felt the need to feed that perpetual outrage machine. But I think you you look back at that in in light of what’s happened since and it it is hard to take the claims of fiscal conservatism and, you know, small government idealism that seriously. So David, you’ve raised an interesting point. You’ve admitted you were wrong about something.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:14

    And of course, I have admitted that I am wrong about many more things. I think you and I have had conversations where we going back and forth, like, what was the wrongest thing you ever did? I always win those competitions because I I can always play the I was much longer card than than you can. We live in an interesting period. There’s the hard partisanship in the tribalism where you go along with whatever the tribe believes even if it is completely opposite to what they believe before.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:38

    But then again, there are folks, and I’ve told this to you before, but I think one of the reasons why you have become so important is conservative commentator, but also a lightningron, is that you have been willing to rethink things. And in many ways, that’s difficult to say, I used to think this, I was wrong. There are a lot of people in politics who have completely gone one eighties, but never acknowledged why they thought they were wrong before, what their process of changing their mind is. And there is a school of thought, of course, things that any time that you say, you know what? I was wrong.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:11

    I have now changed my mind that somehow this is a sign that you have betrayed principles or that you are weak. Right. And I wanted you to talk about this because, you know, this is one thing that I found liberating over the last few years. And and what I admire about you is your willingness to go back to, you know, deeply held positions you have, you’ve articulated in the past and say, you know what? I have changed my mind.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:37

    One of the big issues you changed your mind on was the issue of same sex marriage. And this created a huge fires on the right were people who thought, oh my god, you know, you’ve betrayed everything you ever believe it’s us. Let’s talk about that. How how have you changed your mind? Maybe a little larger point we can get to the question of What is that process of changing your mind?
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:55

    I mean, I I I think there’s a certain intellectual deadness. It’s some kind of intellectual death. When you decide that you know what? I’m not gonna rethink my priors. I’m not going to reevaluate the positions I’ve held this is where I am.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:08

    And you know what? I just I’m I’m not moving from this particular position. So so talk to me about the that process of going while I have written ten years’ worth of articles that now I’m willing to say, maybe I was I was just wrong.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:24

    Yeah. That that’s a great question, Charlie. So I would say it’s really kind of a two step process for me. So let me put it this way. The rise of Trump was humbling.
  • Speaker 3
    0:25:34

    In a number of senses, one, it really revealed limits of political prognostic machino. How much do I know about politics if I’m gonna sit there and say in two thousand and fifteen, no way Trump wins this thing. Right? And not only did he win, he was never really seriously threatened in the whole way, but that would say, well, you’re not a great political forecaster, but it was deeper than that, Charlie. It was deeper than that because a Donald Trump does not come out of a healthy movement.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:08

    So if you are a part of the movement that produces Donald Trump as its standard bearer and leader, you are not a part of a healthy movement. And if you’re not a part of a healthy movement, that’s gonna make you think hard about how did I miss this? How did it get unhealthy? And that opens up a lot of different things. If you’re really trying to think through this and in honest and and rigorously self critical manner.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:37

    Why? Why was I in a bubble that didn’t see the Trump phenomenon arising? What is it that put me in that bubble. What is it that I was misjudging about the nature of this conservative movement that you and I have both been a part of forever? And so that actually begins a process of opening you up a lot more.
  • Speaker 3
    0:26:56

    And then when you open up your mind, you gotta follow where that leads. And, you know, the marriage situation is a little bit different from that pattern in the sense that I had already been torn about that issue for a long time. When I’m talking about this sort of the post Trump stuff, it really did start a process where you say, how did I miss this? And not just the political prognestification part of it, but the culture part of it, which is so huge. Well, how do you
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:27

    think you missed it? And when I say, how did you miss it? How did we miss it? Because — Yeah. — I identify with this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:32

    I I feel seen. We love to describe that that process. How did we miss this? How could we have been in that bubble? Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:40

    Well, that that’s the key word, Charlie. I realized I was in a bubble. Here I was living in rural Tennessee believing that I was the one not in a bubble. Right? Because I’m out in red America, I’m out in what turned out to be MAGA country.
  • Speaker 3
    0:27:54

    I mean, too, it’s Core turned out to be MAGA Country. Yet, here I am. I’m living the life. You know, since I graduated from law school, of the conservative legal movement, the federalist society world. And that’s a world of ideas of intellectual debate that’s a world where, look, if you’re a Fed SOC affiliated professor or you’re a Fed SOC affiliated judge and you go to these Fed SOC events, if you’re talking about sort of the legal battles of the last twenty five years, what you’re living in is a world of ideas and a world of intellectual argument?
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:30

    That’s what I did, Charlie, for a long time, I would go and do these Fed SOC debates all over the country where, you know, I’m talking to some in debating some of the leading progressive law professors. And in my world, going back to Fedstock in law school, you know, Jack Kemp would come and would talk to us. Remember Jack Kemp? Mhmm. And he would talk to us.
  • Speaker 3
    0:28:50

    He would literally sit in a room for us for two and a half, three hours talking to us about innovative, conservative policy ideas designed to address racial wealth disparities. And that was my world growing up what conservatism was. It was a a world of intellectual debate It was a world of integrity because in the nineties, we drew a sharp contrast with Bill Clinton in the way the democrats treated in accommodated Bill Clinton’s corruption. So in my world, it was a world where we we drew lines about integrity, we drew lines and we were movement of ideas, integrity and ideas. And so that was my world.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:28

    And then all of a sudden, I realized that the ideas didn’t matter as much as I thought that they did. And then you began to see that the integrity piece of it really didn’t matter. As much as I thought that it did. And so the two twin pillars of this movement that I believed I was a part of turned out to not be as real as I thought they were. It wasn’t about the ideas.
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:52

    It wasn’t about integrity. And that’s a hard realization. Now, it’s not universal. Like, to this day, people who hate on the federalist society, I will say, you know, the Federal Society helped save America in twenty twenty. Don’t you?
  • Speaker 3
    0:30:08

    All these Fedstop judges who turned back all of these Trump challenges uniformly all of them, either FedSOC or FedSOC affiliated or FedSOC friendly, and they just tossed this Trumpism out of court. And right to this day, conservative judges and members of the conservative legal movement are blunting Trumpism. Through the special, you know, overturning the special master rules and you you name it stopping some of these unlawful desantis laws and regulations and Florida, but so it’s not that that part of the movement never existed and doesn’t exist at all anymore. It’s just that it didn’t characterize the movement like I thought that it did.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:48

    And then once you have that realization. Yeah. I mean, and the ease and the speed of which they sloughed off all of those those ideas was was I think remarkable because, you know, I experienced the same sort of thing realizing that that our modern politics was not about these ideas and these policies. It was about attitude. It was about identity.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:07

    And it was, you know, about striking a pose. And it turns out that this entire intellectual superstructure that we had thought was conservatism was this really, you know, narrow you know, crust on top of this, you know, molten pot pie of something else. Well, there’s also, you know, as you described that the movement was unhealthy. And I try every once in a while to separate. Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:28

    Well, can you separate the idea from the movement? And I think that’s where it gets complicated because so much of our politics has been kind of the the buffet line where you are required to pick every single item that if you are part of this tribe, you have to check every single box. And once you’re looking around going, well, this group has been wrong about so many other things. Maybe I should question all of these other things that I have gone along with as part of this identity. Are you tracking with where I’m going on that?
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:58

    Yes. Right. And I think that’s where you begin to think, okay. So I’d been willing to take your word for it that we all stood for this. But if we don’t actually all stand for this, I now have I think a green light to rethink these things.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:14

    Here’s I think one of the better ironies of all of this is that many of the people who are have gone complete maga or anti anti Trump. They’ve also changed their minds about a variety of things. They have flipped on the question of American exceptionalism on free trade on free speech, you know, on the size of government, all of these things foreign policy. And yet, it’s only when those of us who’ve broken with Trump think, maybe we ought to rethink some of these other issues while now. Look, see, you are reversing, you are abandoning because you don’t like the orange guy because, you know, orange orange man bad.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:48

    You have changed your ideas. I think that’s what’s been so bizarre. So talk to me a little bit about why you changed your mind on same sex marriage? Because, I mean, that’s an issue that is completely separate from Trumpism and the Trump issue. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:03

    Donald Trump himself didn’t make an issue of that. Now many of his supporters have, but there are some fundamental truths and realities there that have been unchanged by the political dynamic and yet you still changed your mind. So talk to me about that. So this is something when I wrote this that I’ve
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:19

    actually done a a flip flop flop. I started in one place, changed to another, and then changed back to where I started. So so where I started was in the early two thousands after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court actually said that the Massachusetts constitution protects the right of same sex marriage. This was o three zero four. I said, you know what?
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:42

    I’m a conservative evangelical, but I am fine with that decision. And the reason why I’m fine with that decision is I see a distinction between religious marriage and civil marriage. So Already, we had a big distinction because no fault divorce is not an aspect of what you might call biblical marriage. It’s not nowhere you’re gonna find sort of sanction for that regime Yet, that was the regime we’re living under. So we we were not living under a regime in the United States where civil marriage equaled biblical marriage.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:12

    Those were already different things. And going all the way back in four, what I said is, I don’t think it really impacts My ability to believe in biblical marriage is one thing if we extend civil marriage, which is already not biblical marriage, to encompass same sex couples. And that was my point of view that biblical marriage and civil marriage are what I called covenant marriage and civil marriage were like two ships passing in the night. They were just different things. Well then, as the fights began to unfold over the next several years, what I saw was a part of the left really wanted to change even the notion of covenant marriage or religious marriage and was going after religious since institutions that retained their traditional religious values about marriage.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:04

    So Christian schools, Christian institutions, there was a real move in the culture to say, no, we’re not content with on the left side are real intolerance quite frankly against people of faith who held to traditional religious beliefs about religious marriage. And I began to get very alarmed at these rising attacks on the religious liberty of traditional religious institutions. And so I said, wait a minute. Maybe the critics of the gay marriage movement who were saying that this movement was going to really take aim at religious institutions were right. And that this is something that just goes along with the expansion of the definition of civil marriage is gonna be this attack on religious liberty.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:48

    And if that’s the case, then I’m out. I’m not going to be a part of a movement that is going to take on religious liberties so directly as a necessary outgrowth of advocating for same sex marriage. And then, Obergafel happens. And Kennedy, just as Kennedy says, very clearly in the decision. He says, you know, look, there are people of goodwill who have different beliefs about marriage and our nation should accommodate people of goodwill who have different beliefs about marriage.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:16

    And remember when that came out, I remember thinking, those are good words we’ll see. Did you think that that decision was was correct? Oh, as a matter of pure constitutional law, I didn’t think that decision was correct. I don’t think the the original meaning of the fourteenth amendment encompasses a right to same sex marriage. But when he said those words, he said, I remember thinking, oh, well, that’s interesting that he seems to be very specifically saying religious liberty and same sex marriage can coexist.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:47

    Mhmm. Mhmm. And I remember thinking we’ll see. Well, we’ve seen and the result is literally there has not been a significant religious liberty loss on the merits at the Supreme Court since a Burger fell. So it is both two things are true at once right now in the US.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:04

    One, same sex marriage is the law of the land, and two, religious liberty as a legal matter is more strongly protected than it’s ever been. Okay? So all of a sudden you go back to this original sense that I had back all the way back in o four that look, these two regimes, legal regimes can coexist, religious freedom can coexist with same sex marriage. And then, you know, you began to see rumbles post dobs that Obergafel might be overturned, which I think would be the wrong decision to overturn Obergafil because of the reliance interests that people have placed in Obergafil. And I see some people just brushing past that entirely.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:45

    And then I think, I don’t see
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:48

    it as remotely.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:51

    The way you treat citizens of this country that if you have a million or so people who are in same sex relationships to advocate for legal changes that would literally invalidate as a matter of law, the relationships around which they’ve built their lives are often raising children and to sort of come in and say, we’re gonna rip that legal arrangement to pieces. That struck me as fundamentally unjust. And so I said, wait a minute, with respect from Meraj Act, look at this, what what does this law do?
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:23

    It
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:24

    says, for those people, who have gotten married in reliance upon Obergafel or in reliance upon it being lawful when they get married, that it can’t be disturbed on the basis of race, sex, etcetera. Sexual orientation, it can’t be disturbed, and then it flips around and gave some concrete religious liberty protections to all Americans, of course, who have religious liberty rights, but he gave concrete religious liberty protections that should really reassure conservative and traditional people of faith. And I thought it was an exactly sort of a legal codification of where the president had been heading anyway and was actually a sign of a healthy kind of compromise where people who supported same sex marriage could say to people of faith in this traditional conservative faith in this country that We know understand and respect your dissenting religious beliefs, and then people of faith could turn around and say, we know and understand that your marriage upon which you’ve built your life should not be ripped apart by operation of law that you should have security in the relationships that you’re building and you could say both of those things to each other at the same time and reach a real and meaningful compromise.
  • Speaker 3
    0:39:37

    And I wrote that, And oh my gosh. Yes, Charlie. And now now, no, I didn’t change my own religious views about marriage at all. But
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:48

    whoa. This, of course, you know, has been the big concern is, are we going to be able, you know, with all of our talk about diversity and pluralism to understand, you know, that there are different deeply held legitimate dissent here. As opposed to labeling them all as something that need to be, you know, either as bigotry or that need the the force of the state to correct. And it is kind of remarkable when you think about it, considering how toxic our political and cultural times are that we do appear to have settled into or trending toward this compromise, this live and let live approach, which is always a little bit tenuous, you do have any concern though that given the trajectory of the culture wars and the need to keep, you know, escalating them that that this will hold Oh, of course, I’ve got concerned about
  • Speaker 3
    0:40:40

    it. I think that this compromise is more secure than most compromises because it’s doubly secured both by the Supreme Court and the legislature. So the Supreme Court decided to Virgafel and it has decided a series of protective decisions around religious liberty and justice Alito in the mob’s decision went out and said, mob should not be used to call into question of Bergafel. And so you have Obergafel, you have religious liberty protection, you have a reaffirmation of Obergafel in Dobbs, so that’s the judicial side of it. Then you now have a federal law that both protects the right of same sex marriage and protects religious liberty.
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:18

    It doesn’t protect religious liberty as much as it could have, but it certainly provides some concrete additional protections. You really do have a like a belt and suspenders approach here. When it comes to religious liberty and same sex marriage, that actually is a model in my view for how pluralistic society should function. It isn’t the case that one side has to crush the life out of the other. We can accommodate dissenting
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:43

    views in this country. You’ve heard this piece about a progressive judge who helped preserve American pluralism in a religious liberty case. And we don’t have a lot of time here, but can we talk about all of this? This is a a lawsuit filed by a group of students who sued the Department of Education over the religious exemption to title nine, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination and federally funded education programs. And they went after this religious carve out saying it violated the constitution because Christian schools were getting they argued were getting preferential treatment and the government was funding discrimination.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:20

    And this was assigned to a liberal Oregon judge Clint appoint team named Anne Aiken, and you highlighted her decision because she came out very, very strongly in favor of religious liberty and pluralism here. Talk to me a little bit about that case. Yeah. The one thing I wanna
  • Speaker 3
    0:42:36

    communicate to people is the truth that our religious freedoms do not hang by a thread. And how do you know they don’t hang by a thread? Well, you can talk about judges and judicial decisions all day, and people would just say, well, that’s only because of the Republican nominated judges. And what I wanted to do is provide a concrete example of that that’s not actually the case. And in this circumstance, you had a coalition of students on the left, mainly LGBT students suing the Department of Education, not the Christian colleges.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:08

    Charlie, the Department of Education, and filing the lawsuit in Eugene, Oregon. Now, for those who are savvy litigators who are among your listeners, they’re gonna start to smell a whiff of something called forum shopping. So forum shopping is when you try to file your case in the most favorable jurisdiction possible. Where you’re gonna try to get a favorable judge. And there’s nothing natural about this lawsuit that says Eugene Oregon is where you need to sue the Department of Education.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:36

    Right? So there was this concern, oh, wait, is this foreign shopping. Then there was this other concern, wait, they’re suing the Department of Education, not the Christian colleges. Now, if the stereotypes hold true that the Democratic Party hates religious freedom. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:50

    Well, then you have another concern that maybe the Biden apartment of education isn’t going to vigorously defend the lawsuit. In other words, they’re going to kind of roll over for their allies on the far left. But no, the Biden administration said, no, we’re gonna vigorously defend this religious exemption to title nine. So this is the Biden administration step up and says, no, we’re defending it. Now, the Christian colleges also intervened as they ordinarily would in a case like this to try to make sure that their interests were taken care of.
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:19

    But the Biden administration said, no, we are contesting the lawsuit. And then the judge, last week, tossed it out. And when she tossed it out, she relied on supreme court precedent religious liberty and establishment clause precedent that in some cases was unanimous. In other words, had been decided by both Democratic nominated and Republican nominated judges. And what I wanted to show people is, yeah, there are people who are gonna threat religious liberty.
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:44

    There are people gonna file lawsuits. But here, you had a progressive judge responding to the arguments by Democratic administration in support of religious liberty applying precedent decided by both Democratic and Republican nominated judges to uphold religious liberty. That’s not exactly the culture war narrative that you’re gonna hear on Fox News, in particular, and cable news more broadly, but it’s much more broadly reflective of how solidly protected religious liberty is in this country. Well,
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:13

    then I suppose we ought to end on that optimistic note because I’m certainly hoping that you are right about all of this. My only concern is that every extreme position that we see floated out there tends to become weaponized and then normalizes a very short period of time. But your point about the solid foundations of religious liberty in the courts right now, I I think is well taken. And this is one of the I had to tell you, I I think of it as as a dangerous blind spot for some of our progressive friends that they don’t understand the degree to which that has whipped up opposition. That sense that they are coming for your rights, that they are going to come into churches and make you do things that violate your conscience, you know, to the degree to which people can be reassured that in fact, you know, their liberties are going to be respected and protected I think it dials down the temperature.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:10

    And and and and that may happen over time, over a
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:13

    long period of time. It’s not gonna happen anytime soon. I couldn’t agree more. And I couldn’t agree more that there are progressive folks who need to hear this. Look, leave religious institutions alone.
  • Speaker 3
    0:46:24

    I mean, this this should be a pretty simple admonition, leave religious institutions alone. And and look, they haven’t been left alone. I I spent years and years and years protecting Christian student groups from being tossed off campus, for example, or defending professors who are denied promotions or advancement because of their religious beliefs or students who faced reprisals because of their religious beliefs. And a lot of folks who are progressive don’t even know about these cases because they’re not talked about in maybe the media outlets that they consume and they listen to or watch. And it’s really important, I think, to to establish a rule that says look and to understand the first amendment allows for private associations to, you know, order their affairs in according to their value system.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:12

    And I think we’d all be better off if we acknowledge that reality is as an indispensable part of pluralism. Now, their obvious limits Charlie, obvious limits. You know, you can’t sit there and say, I’ve got a religious liberty objection to serving somebody on the basis of race, a hamburger, or whatever. There are obvious limits, but as a general rule, you’re gonna be able to organize your private organizations according to your values. And I think that that’s valuable rule and a valuable rule for a pluralistic society.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:42

    David French has been a senior editor at the dispatch, which he helped to launch and a contributing ride to the
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:49

    Atlantic. And later this month, he’s going to be joining the New York Times as an opinion columnist. It is great to talk with you again, David. Thank you so much.
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:57

    Thanks so much, Charlie. Really appreciate it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:00

    And thank you all for listening to today’s Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. We will be back tomorrow. We will do this all over again. The Bulwark podcast is produced by Katie Cooper, an engineered and edited by Jason Brown.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:26

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  • Speaker 1
    0:48:51

    I mean, I’ve been trying to scale my business, but I can’t find somebody to conduct these interviews. Yeah. But shot Ryan Show on YouTube or wherever you listen.
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