Monday, October 27, 2008

Avoiding the Oscar Option

Now, I promise that I'm not going to badger people who've decided they must abstain from voting or vote third-party this time around. We're all doing the best we can under difficult circumstances to decide how best to vote as serious Catholics, and though we may reach different conclusions we are still striving for the same goal. I wish I could say the same about Catholic Obama voters, but the best I can come up with is that they must be uninformed; the bishops have taught with such clarity this year that we can't draw parallels between abortion and other issues that would create the false illusion that abortion is no different, from a moral gravity perspective, from these other issues. Those of us who either vote for McCain despite our misgivings, vote for a dq3, or leave the presidential race blank on our ballots, are at least all trying to accomplish the same goal of limiting evil; we've just decided this means different things.

Having said that, though, and having struggled myself with the "what to do" question, I want to address one point that the dq3/blank ballot Catholics keep making, and which I came to reject as not quite true, or at least not true in the way they seem to think it is: the notion that we will ultimately influence the major parties by our actions in abstaining or dq3 voting.

Astonishing though it is to realize, if you add up all the votes for all third party candidates for the presidential elections from 1980 through 2004, they total 43,929,518 votes--not generally enough to win a single election, even if these had all been cast by unique voters, which they were not. That is, people who voted third party in 1980 might have voted the same way in 1988, and so on; the forty-three million votes took seven elections to accumulate. Even more astonishing is the fact that more than twice that many, or roughly one hundred million, Americans don't vote at all in most elections. So while the "message" ought to be that roughly one hundred six million (averaging the third-party votes over seven years) eligible voters find neither major party candidate even remotely worth supporting, that's not the message that is being received; the major parties simply concentrate their efforts on those who are likely to vote, and ignore the ones who don't--whether those are principled Catholics waiting for better choices or apathetic atheists who find voting as amusing and meaningless as the other ritualized behaviors of a specific carbon-based life form which is only slightly more intelligent than a chimpanzee, or anyone in between.

It doesn't matter to the major parties, in other words, why the non-voters don't vote, or why the handful of dq3 supporters vote for third-party candidates, with the possible exception of those few candidates who have garnered more than a few million votes in a single election; I'm sure Ross Perot's nearly twenty million votes got the attention of the two big parties, but I doubt anyone else in recent memory has garnered anywhere remotely close to that level of interest. We can deplore this, we can write about it, we can refer to the dangers of the two-party system, all of which I've done myself on occasion; but we can't, by mere magical thinking or ill-placed optimism, create a different reality from the reality that actually is.

None of this means that we should accept, with a defeatist air, that the flawed two-party system is the only way. But if we're serious about wanting other choices, then we have to stop pretending that we can somehow effect change on the eve of a hotly-contested election by sitting it out or voting for some relatively harmless kook who would never get our vote if he actually were a major party primary candidate.

We have to get involved.

Part of the problem is that some of us are people who love to hate politics. We enjoy bashing both parties for their shortcomings, but we'd never consider joining either major party, getting involved in a local race in order to help a really good candidate advance through the party ranks, getting involved in the pro-life arm of the party, or otherwise working to make things better so that four years from now we won't be stuck with the same sort of choices all over again.

Or perhaps we really, truly believe that a third-party is the way to go, but we have yet to pick one or create one and throw our energies and efforts into that party, helping them to get established and maybe convincing the party leadership to concentrate on state and local elections first, instead of aiming for the moon by running for the presidency from day one.

I know the objections: we're already involved in non-political good works, there's no time, political solutions aren't the answer, etc. But we can't pop out of our trash cans once every two or four years like Oscar the Grouch, complain that there's just no good choices, abuse the election participants as easily deluded saps on happy pills, and then slam the lid down to wait for the next opportunity for some cathartic public grouching about it all.

If we're serious as Catholics in a troublingly flawed era in a nation which seems to be forgetting the whole "under God" part, if we really do want to use Catholic social principles to help shape a more just and more righteous nation, if we really do believe that the law must not fail to protect the unborn, uphold traditional marriage, and otherwise protect the family as its foundational unit--then we can't leave to chance the idea that perhaps next time around one of the major parties will run a good candidate, or if not, at least they'll get the message that we're displeased which we will send by our continued lack of participation.

I think the only message they'll get will sound like the lid slamming down on the trash can of a notorious malcontent--and they'll ignore it as they always do, and move on.


This_Cross_I_Embrace said...

I just "attended" a Priests for Life teleseminar last night, on what we can do to influence votes in this crunch time before elections. They made it very clear that we SHOULD indeed be voting, and voting for the pro-life candidate (however deplorable his ESCR stance is). Of the "likely" voters to go to polls, it is often the pro-life voters who will show up, as opposed to the pro-choice likely voters (who tend to not show up), due to how critical we view this issue alone.
They also made a point to say that the liberal media polls have been VERY deceiving, trying to make pro-lifers discouraged, thinking our vote won't matter anyway in our liberal-leaning states. THIS IS A FALSITY! In actual polls, the race is much closer than we realize, and it is up to us to make sure all pro-life voters get out to the polls and make the most influential vote we can- - the most influential being the one that will help the pro-life candidate to win.
(We can pray after he makes office that Palin has some influence on his ESCR position.)

freddy said...

"Irresponsible" "Unreasonable" "Sinner" "Mad" "Angry" "Blind" "Unrealistic" "Stupid" and now, thank you, "Malcontent" are some of the names those of us who've decided to take the third party option have been called recently. (As an aside, I don't mind at all being called a sinner, after all, I am one, but the writer did state that in his opinion anyone who did not vote for McCain was guilty of serious sin.)

So I guess when Obama wakes up King -- er, I mean President -- on Wednesday morning next week y'all will know whom to blame. It won't be Obama of course, he has been proclaimed Blameless in All Things. It won't be the mass-media in their carefully orchestrated breathless salesmanship of The One. It won't (of course!) be McCain. Oh, no!

It will be all those dumb 3rd party voters. All 40 of us.

Irenaeus said...

"...about Catholic Obama voters, but the best I can come up with is that they must be uninformed"

I think a lot of Catholics are informed, but being more cultural catholics, they just don't give a crap. Deep down they're pro-choice. They reject church teaching here. They may go to Mass for comfort and routine and beauty and such, but they're kinda Anglican about it. Liturgy and community without beliefs.

Daddio said...

I like the Oscar analogy!

I've yet to hear the dq3 strategy. Can anyone explain how it might actually work? I'm listening.

I think we should simply convince Christians and other pro-lifers to vote for the major party that is largely pro-life, i.e. Republican. When the Democratic party learns that they can't win anything until they abandon abortion "rights", then we will have a choice between pro-life Republicans and pro-life Democrats. And THEN we can start to debate the secondary issues.

Maybe that is pie-in-the-sky. But it seems more realistic than the third party option. Especially given that we pro-lifers have more children. In time, surely we must prevail.

Red Cardigan said...

Oh, come now, freddy. I haven't used most of the words you posted, and I've bent over backward to make sure that my criticism of dq3 voters is NOT directed at people who honestly and sincerely want Chuck Baldwin or Joe Schriner to be president. I can't personally agree this year, but I've voted dq3 in the past and am likely to do so in the future.

No, my ire--if you can call it that--is directed at a certain group of Catholic writers and bloggers who take the position that politics are just a low dirty game that real Catholics refuse to play; they grumble about choices and then announce their decision to vote third-party or not at all as if this is recognizably the only possible way for pure holy Catholics to vote. They seem to believe that being a Catholic citizen means refusing to participate at all in Caesar's realm, and that one's vote ought to be a symbolic poke in the eye to the major parties if one is a Catholic, or else it has no meaning.

I've encountered people like this all over the Internet, and they're quick to condemn McCain voters as "tools," "dupes" "sinners" "partisans" "status-quo enablers" and similar epithets.

So my interest in writing at all about the dq3 or blank ballot vote is to stress the point: if you honestly believe that our system is broken beyond repair, or that a specific dq3 candidate is the best possible choice for the presidency, then I have no quarrel with you at all! I will, however, continue to challenge those who insist that Catholic voters *must* abstain or *must* vote third-party with the idea that any other way of voting is immoral or impure or sinful; if it were, I think our bishops would say so.

By the same token I have not and never will criticize the sincere dq3 voter. It's not the dq3 choice, but the assumption of superior morality, which causes me to write about this.

freddy said...

Oh, come now, red....

1. You begin your post with, "Now, I promise that I'm not going to badger people who've decided they must abstain from voting or vote third-party this time around." and then compare us to Oscar the Grouch. That's not honest, is it? You appear to be trying to make a distinction between those who are "sincere" and *something else*, but since you don't do a very good job defining that something else, it doesn't fly.

2. You define "valid" 3rd party votes as -- and apparently *only* as "....if you honestly believe that our system is broken beyond repair, or that a specific dq3 candidate is the best possible choice for the presidency..." Which seems that all other reasons, such as, perhaps, philosophical differences, moral integrity, or dim hope for a future not yet imagined, are *invalid*.

3. I don't get out (on the internet) much, but I have been trying to do my homework. I've read, pondered, prayed and, yes, anguished about this election. I've tried very hard to read both sides regarding McCain/Somebody Else and I've yet to read anyone whose attitude was that you described above. Honestly, where are you seeing the "vote 3rd party or die in a ditch you scumbag" attitude? It can't be very prevelant or influential, now, can it?

Anyway, sorry this is so long and probably unreadable! I'm hungry & can feel the blood sugar dropping by the second.

Be at peace. Your Godson will be voting McCain. I told him to.

eulogos said...

Well in my diocese what people have been hearing from their bishop and diocese for YEARS is that all 'life' issues matter equally, such as war, capital punishment, poverty, hunger, destruction of the environment etc.
When people came down from the diocese during the previous election, they used every possible meeting running tactic to silence anyone (ie me) who tried to argue for the higher priority and non-negotiable nature of abortion as an issue. In fact, I think they came down to speak just to counter any hints people might have gotten through the main stream media that other Catholic bishops were teaching differently. I am sure it is just the same there this year, from what I see when I occasionally get a hold of one of the bulletins. (I don't attend that parish or in that diocese, any more. My Byzantine Catholic priest gave solid prolife sermons, last year and this year. )

So if people only get their news from the local (proObama) newspaper and from network news, and from the pap which comes from
the diocese of Rochester, it isn't surprising that they don't know how to weigh the issues.

I am not saying this excuses them, but it does go part of the way to explain.
Susan Peterson

Red Cardigan said...

Freddy, we should probably take this offline, but I just want to say one more time: I did *not* compare all dq3 voters to Oscar the Grouch.

We *all* have to avoid the "Oscar option." I'm as guilty as anybody of paying attention to politics only when I've got to go vote. If this election has been different it's because there were so many issues to weigh and so much to think about (and it went on for so long, too). But it's made it pretty clear that if we really want better choices the next time around, the time to get involved in party politics--even third-party politics--will be November 5th, 2008, not October of 2012.

Apparently I didn't express that well enough, but that's all I meant by the "Oscar Option" and why we need to avoid it. Showing up once every four years, grumbling a lot, and then voting--*however* we vote--isn't going to change anything.

Calvin Dodge said...

You're absolutely right - simply showing up on Election Day isn't enough.

Let me share the wisdom I received from Robert Heinlein (in "Take Back Your Government").

To be effective in politics, you need to:

1) pick the major party which is closest to your philosopy/ideology
2) volunteer to help that party
3) be active in helping choose the party's candidates
4) vote the straight party ticket unless the given candidate is insane (like McKinney) or criminal (like Stevens)

Heinlein persuaded me of this in the early 1990s, which is why I joined the Republican party in early '94 (I'd been a third party member for 20 years).