Can it really be true that we are obligated to vote for a scoundrel in order to prevent a bigger scoundrel from taking office?
I agree, in principle if not in every detail, with Zippy and Lydia: lines must be drawn somewhere. At some point, it becomes wrong to vote for a candidate no matter how bad the other guy is. But I’m unsure as to where that line is supposed to be drawn exactly. It is virtually impossible to find a candidate who does not support policies that are intrinsically immoral. Even the best pro-life politicians support contraception, for example. Contraception is not small potatoes. In the temporal order, it’s a grievous evil and the very foundation of our culture of death. In the spiritual order, it ruins more lives and sends more souls to hell than does abortion. But if we draw the line at voting for contraception-supporting politicians, then we can’t vote for 99% of the candidates in any given election.
I’m not sold on the argument that it is always wrong to vote for a candidate who supports policies that are intrinsically and grievously immoral. That would essentially mean dropping out of the political process altogether. It seems obvious to me, as well, that this attitude is at odds with the prudential teaching of the Church about participation in a democratic system.
It is theoretically possible that the prudential teaching of the hierarchy on this point is mistaken – a misapplication of Catholic moral principles. I’m open to the idea, but it doesn’t seem likely.
Back to drawing lines again. I can’t put my finger on the reason, but I think John McCain has crossed the line for me. A vote – among other things – is a reward. It is not exclusively a reward, but it is a reward nonetheless, and will be perceived by most as an endorsement of the candidate and his policies. A vote sends a message to the candidate, to his party, to the government, and to the electorate. I don’t want to reward John McCain with anything but permanent political exile. Most importantly, I don’t want to send the message that Republican candidates can expect my vote no matter how much they trash or ignore the pro-life principles of the GOP platform. If pro-lifers and social conservatives DON’T withhold their votes, they cannot expect the GOP – or any political party – to care enough to court them.
As it stands now, McCain and the GOP have called our bluff. We talk tough, but when it comes down to the wire most pro-lifers, it seems, are Republicans first.
A vote is also a choice to affect the outcome of an election. A vote for McCain-Plain could, if sufficiently aggregated, enable John McCain to enact grievously immoral policies. Granted, that same vote could also prevent the ascendance of a monster who is arguably a forerunner of the antichrist. The concrete outcome of an election is therefore a consideration, but not the only consideration.
Does the good of stopping Obama, therefore, justify the evil of rewarding and enabling a lesser scoundrel? What would Newman say?
“The Catholic Church holds that it is better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in the extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”
– Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman