A Note on Political Choices, and Political Lies
By Dr. Jeff Mirus | October 25, 2012
In the past few weeks I’ve exchanged a number of shrillish emails with those who strenuously object to my assertion that there are two moral choices in this year’s American presidential election: Vote for Romney or vote for neither of the major candidates.
Some have argued that a vote for Obama is moral because (a) the culture of life problems on which the candidates differ are now an intractable part of American society; (b) the HHS mandate doesn’t really attack religious liberty since it doesn’t force anyone to get an abortion; and (c) Obama is, on the whole, far more concerned about the common good (in the sense of the common man) than Mitt “Fat Cat” Romney. This argument is so utterly vacuous, on all three points, that I won’t dignify it with a response.
But others have argued, sometimes indicating horror and hurt at my betrayal, that voting for neither major candidate (by writing someone in or not voting at all) is morally equivalent to voting for Obama. This is not an absurd argument, but it is a false one.
It is false on the following grounds:
1.If one concludes that one cannot morally approve the positions of either candidate, one may in conscience withhold one’s vote regardless of the consequences. This is not morally equivalent to endorsing those consequences, which in any case are necessarily uncertain.
2.If one concludes that the Republican Party will not offer a vigorous pro-life program unless it is taught that it cannot win merely as the lesser of two evils, then one may morally incline toward the long-term goal of improving the Republican Party, or building the cause of a third party, rather than to the short-term goal of an immediate lesser evil.
3.If one concludes that the Republican ticket (which is apparently more pro-life and apparently more supportive of religion) really won’t make a significant effort to shift the country in the direction which these values require, then one is morally justified in paying little or no attention to “posturing”.
This last touches on the question of political honesty. For example, watching the Soviet Union from afar before it fell apart, most Americans understood that elections there were a sham, that no matter what candidates and their promoters said publicly, it made no difference because it was all lies. It is not necessary to draw this same conclusion about American politics, but it is also not necessarily wrong to do so in some areas, especially in light of the long (but admittedly not exclusive) history of pro-life campaign rhetoric followed by political inaction.
Note also that choosing to vote for neither candidate is not the same thing as voting for Obama even as a purely political calculation. This assertion assumes that removing a vote from the pool of voters is the same as casting a bad vote, when mathematically the two are quite different. It further assumes that only voters who would have otherwise voted for Romney will choose to vote for neither. This is unwarranted. In fact I have heard from some Catholics who will vote for neither candidate primarily because, while they would like to support Obama, they cannot bring themselves to do so in light of his recent stepped up attacks on the natural law and religious liberty.
In the current election, therefore, it remains morally possible to vote for Romney or vote for neither major candidate, but not to vote for Obama. And then one must ask whether the strongest argument for Romney is sufficient to break this moral tie.