/ March 29, 2021
by R. Clinton Ohlers
Rarely do political reversals rise to the level of comedy, especially in 2021. Nevertheless, in a plaintive open letter to Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, Pro Life Evangelicals for Biden delivered in spades.
Yet, there is much more than just comedy to the story.
The source of the mirth, and what propelled the little known group to national notoriety, was Pro Life Evangelicals for Biden’s seemingly genuine shock and dismay that after publicly supporting him as a candidate, Biden now seemed to be selling them out. The House not only had excluded from the latest Covid-19 relief bill the longstanding Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion, they had appropriated tens of millions for that funding. It was assumed Biden would sign.
On March 6, the group’s organizers, Richard Mouw and Ron Sider, announced being “very disappointed” and “upset.” They said, “we feel used and betrayed”: "As pro-life leaders in the Evangelical community, we publicly supported President Biden’s candidacy with the understanding that there would be engagement us [sic] on the issue of abortion and particularly the Hyde Amendment."
Their emphasis on the Hyde Amendment is what elevated the incident to the level of genuine comedy. As anyone who followed Biden’s campaign was aware, Biden publicly promised on multiple occasions to eliminate the Hyde Amendment, if elected. He so promised in May of 2019 and later added it in print to the campaign website.
Mouw and Sider launched their group on Oct. 3, only a month before the election, and long after those promises had been made.
Moreover, history was merely repeating itself, except that this time around it was doing so at the hands of the same individual fulfilling a previously stated public policy goal. The Hyde Amendment reigned from 1976 to 2021 with only one major interruption — when it was suspended by the very administration in which Biden previously served. It was President Donald Trump who reinstated it.
In this scenario, Mouw, Sider, and their 5,000 co-signers not only somehow reasoned their way into thinking that Biden, rather than Trump, was the candidate to back, now they claimed to be misled, upset that the Biden team had been dishonest with their small assemblage rather than dishonest with tens of millions of Biden’s core constituents.
Rather than slink away quietly out of the public eye, played but the wiser for it, Mouw and Sider somehow reasoned the savvy course of action was to broadcast their folly as widely as possible. That they did so with pathetic tones of emotional injury, meant to stir sympathy and outrage, broadcast just how far removed from reality Mouw and Sider still were.
Then, they doubled down on the illusion yet again.
They “had no intentions of just watching these events from the sidelines” — they announced from the nosebleed section. Biden must break his promises to his base, must instead “honor his commitment to us,” must “honor their courage,” must “immediately demand that the House of Representatives apply the Hyde language.” Key congressional Democrats must break party ranks and “oppose the bill, as it stands, and demand the Hyde Amendment be included.”
The consequence of noncompliance would be dire. It would “raise the question of whether or not we are still welcome in the Democratic Party.”
What on earth happened?
Not, what happened legislatively. Of course, the bill passed and Biden signed.
What happened to Mouw and Sider’s minds?
The best explanation comes from psychology through insights gained from another group of individuals known to engage in such metaphorical, and sometimes real, suicide: Equity traders.
Psychologists who research and specialize in coaching traders have discovered that in an abundance of information, the twin emotions of fear and hope directed toward a future good or ill, will influence the mind to form its perception of reality from subsets of that data that confirm the hope or fear.
It matters little that the larger body of information disconfirms. It matters little that this information is easily available. That is precisely the point. The phenomenon occurs in the midst of such countervailing information.
It also matters little that an individual is an expert analyst, a demonstrably outstanding predictor of future outcomes. Such traits can actually lead to greater failure. Individuals accustomed to their own success as analysts can be most susceptible. Knowing their track record, they trust their judgments when they shouldn’t.
In the markets, this means losing money. In politics, it means irrational voting.
Strict rules are the remedy.
In the markets, traders have rule sets that take over once money is on the line. Analyzing and predicting occurs before the trade is made. Once it is, proven rule sets govern whether to continue or exit the trade. Traders who abandon their rules from an over confidence in their ability to predict outcomes when money is on the line, when hope and fear are active, often drain trading accounts to zero.
So it is in democracies.
Pro Life Evangelicals for Biden imbibed deeply of the grand fears and minimal hope the major media peddled daily ever since the 2016 presidential race.
By all appearances, they abandoned their rule sets.
In academic research sources of self-deception such as confirmation bias and tunnel vision are counteracted by recognition of bias, careful examination of opposing views and counter evidence, privileging primary sources over second-hand reports, dialogue with critics, and peer review, among others.
Mouw and Sider’s signatory letter of Oct. 3, their group's foundational document, evidences all the problematic features — fear, hope, and abandoned rules.
The Oct. 3 letter was a simplistic and misleading list of talking points. It was so misleading that the Christian Post’s editors felt compelled to respond. Their reply, entitled, “Is there a pro life Evangelical argument for Biden?” explained: “While people are certainly entitled to their own opinion they are not entitled to their own facts. When a guest opinion article employs arguments that severely lack factual context, the Christian Post believes it has a journalistic responsibility to its readers to provide that context and perspective.”
The editors administered informal peer review. Side-by-side comparison of the two documents renders a stark juxtaposition of breezy rhetoric versus nuanced analysis.
After Biden signed the bill, the Christian Post contacted Mouw for comments. The interview is as informative as it is bizarre. Mouw reflects that when they publicly announced their support in October of 2020, he and other members of the group knew Biden was “shifting” on the Hyde Amendment.
When asked whether he would have voted for Biden had he known the bill’s outcome on Nov. 3, Mouw responded, that yes, he would “vote the same way.” But, “I would not give my public support.” In other words, Mouw would not even have abstained from voting for Biden. He just wouldn’t have carried water for him.
By the end of the interview, one has to wonder how the group could ever in good faith have selected its name or claimed status as “pro-life leaders in the Evangelical community.”
It appears that Mouw, Sider, and their co-signers imbibed so heavily of media misrepresentation of Trump and his followers, they believed any alternative was preferable to a second Trump term. Their Oct. 3 narrative about abortion served as justification for the only available alternative, an avenue away from what they feared.
It isn't merely that group undermined so severely and obviously their stated goals on abortion, or penned one of the most ineffective political missives in history, which demonstrate a compromised state of perception. Rather, all that is prologue for understanding a much more significant and suicidal consequence of the 2020 election for the group.
In the interview, Mouw raises another concern much more pressing than any losses on abortion policy. Biden's victory threatens the continued existence of the very institutions at which a large portion of the signers are employed or spent their lives building. It is the Equality Act, and what the act means for Evangelical institutions of higher education and ministries.
However even the Equality Act, with its attendant consequences, was no surprise. It too is a promise delivered.
By the looks of it, Pro Life Evangelicals for Biden took irrational voting to a level that can only be described as suicide by ballot. Darwin Award level irrational. Mass extinction level.
Free Press International