Friday, October 24, 2008

A Look at Doomed Quixotic Third Party Voting

Continuing the conversation about voting, I want to look today at the third-party option, often called in Catholic blogging circles the "doomed quixotic third-party" vote, or the dq3 vote to make typing it over and over again much easier.

There are a few assumptions I want to look at more closely about this kind of voting, especially as it pertains to presidential elections; bear in mind that there are often strong third-party candidates for state and local office, and there's no "doomed" or "quixotic" involved in voting for those, since it is completely possible for them to win the office for which they are running.

I'd like to start by saying, as I have many times before, that a dq3 vote for the presidency isn't at all a "wasted" vote; I've never said that, and never will. People who select a dq3 candidate to support for whatever reasons are no less entitled to their legitimate choice in an election than anyone else is, and voting dq3 is an honorable and worthy way to cast one's ballot.

Having said that, though, I will admit to being very unsure that a dq3 vote is the most moral or best possible use of one's vote, which is what is being claimed by many Catholic dq3-ers in this election. The reasoning goes something like this:

-Barack Obama supports intrinsic evil (abortion, partial-birth abortion, infanticide, FOCA, etc.).
-John McCain supports intrinsic evil (ESCR).
-A Catholic voter may vote for John McCain to limit the greater evil, as the bishops have said.
-However, given various prudential realities about one's vote and the speculation that voting for McCain will continue the slide of the Republican Party away from life and toward death, a truly Catholic voter should stand on principle, refuse to participate in the two-party charade any longer, and vote for someone who however unelectable does not support intrinsic evil at all.
-The failure of truly Catholic voters to do this is a direct contributing factor to the continuation of the two-party charade and the reason we keep having such dismal choices.
-So, to vote for virtue, so to speak, Catholics really ought to avoid voting for McCain and throw their vote instead to a dq3 candidate until things change for the better, even if that never actually happens.

As you can imagine, I have a few problems with this.

The first problem is that John McCain is not Barack Obama, even if he very regrettably takes the wrong position on ESCR. It is hard to disprove the reality that the right of the unborn to live will be so terribly eroded under an Obama presidency that we may lose our chance forever to give them the legal protections they deserve as their fundamental human right. To pretend that McCain's wishy-washy support of ESCR is exactly the same thing as Barack Obama's total commitment to evil in regards to abortion is to blur a few pretty solid lines; moreover, the threat Obama poses to religious freedom, especially that of medical professionals who could lose their licenses if they conscientiously object to participating in abortions or in the dispensing of abortifacient contraception during his administration, is chilling to contemplate. I would not call John McCain the best choice for president, or even a "good" choice all things considered, but I would say that he is more likely than Obama to limit evil, and that it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to deny that.

The second problem is that this viewpoint seems awfully dismissive of what the bishops are saying and how they are saying it: all over this nation, for the first time that I can remember, the bishops of America are saying, in effect, that we can not overlook Obama's firm commitment to the evil of abortion nor draw false equivalences between abortion and such issues as war or poverty when casting our votes. Are the bishops telling Catholic voters to vote third party, or even strongly hinting that we ought to do so? Not at all; a priest of deep integrity whose wisdom and holiness I trust greatly said months ago that despite the grave misgivings we all have about McCain, the absolute damage Obama would do to the Supreme Court was, in his mind, compelling enough reason to vote for McCain--if only to limit that damage. So it's quite hard to weigh such advice against the repeated statements of bloggers, some of them anonymous, who insist that there is not and can not be proportionate reason to vote for McCain.

The third problem I have with this is one that is somewhat personal; I know there are dq3 voters who are all fired up with enthusiasm for Joe Schriner or Chuck Baldwin, and I have no quarrel whatsoever with that. I, myself, am not. I admire the Constitution Party in many ways and have voted for their candidates in the past, but have some doubts about Pastor Baldwin's qualifications; I admit to being even less sanguine about Mr. Schriner, who I am sure is an admirable gentleman, but who ought (in my opinion) to consider running for local public office as a way of getting started, instead of running for president in three consecutive election cycles without any proof that he can run much of anything. Since I've raised the same sort of objections to Obama's candidacy I hope I won't be accused of elitism or unfairness in pointing out this defect in Mr. Schreiner.

So for me to cast a vote for a dq3 candidate in this election would be the moral equivalent of a lie: I'd be saying "I would like this person to be president," when in point of fact, I wouldn't, actually. It's not that I don't admire their views and philosophies--but I have grave doubts that either one of these two gentlemen would have the necessary administrative qualities to settle things in Iraq, keep Congress in hand, set foreign and domestic policy, deal with foreign heads of state, show leadership on budgetary and economic issues, and otherwise do the day-to-day business of running the country.

Now, some might object: "But that's not the point of a dq3 vote! It doesn't matter if the dq3 candidate isn't qualified to be president! The point is to express our displeasure with the major party choices, to send a message, and to keep our souls unstained."

We'll get to the "souls unstained" part momentarily, but let's look at the idea that a dq3 vote sends a message or expresses our displeasure in any way at all:

Most of the time, it does nothing of the sort.

Let's stick with Mr. Schriner and Mr. Baldwin for the moment; if there are any other dq3s that Catholics find acceptably pro-life, please be assured I'm not leaving them out intentionally--these are just the names I've heard most often from my fellow Catholics.

Chuck Baldwin has qualified to be either on the ballot, or to be a formally recognized write-in candidate, in all but three states according to this website. In Texas he is a write-in candidate. A vote for Chuck Baldwin will most likely be counted and recorded eventually in those states where the Constitution Party is on the ballot; will it "send a message" to the major parties?

Well, in 2000 the Constitution Party candidate received 98,020 votes, or 0.1% of the votes cast. In 2004 they received 143,630, or 0.12% of the votes cast. Prior to that, in 1996 as the US Taxpayers Party they received 184,820, or 0.2% of the votes--the most they ever received, since previously as the US Taxpayer's Party they had only received 0.04% of the vote. I'm not all that certain that a strong message of any kind is being sent by vote totals significantly below 1% of the popular vote.

At least these votes are counted; candidates who receive less than 1/2000 of the popular vote are lumped into one category as "other" votes, which would include Joe Schriner; in 2004 he received about 142 recorded votes, though some states may not have recorded votes for him as he didn't qualify to be on the ballot or to appear as a recognized write-in candidate.

The bottom line here is that if you are a Catholic unhappy with our two-party system and want to send a message, it's entirely possible that you can send the same message by simply leaving the presidential race blank on your ballot; voting for a dq3 is truly a symbolic act, whatever other kind of voting might or might not be.

But let's get back to the "souls unstained" idea, which is my fourth problem with the "dq3 votes are more moral and more holy than limiting-evil by voting for deeply flawed candidates" way of looking at all of this.

If there were truly a moral danger to the faithful; if it were truly the case that it is morally unacceptable or even sinful to vote for McCain, the bishops would be saying so--that can especially be stated given that the bishops have said that it is morally unacceptable to vote for someone who wholeheartedly approves of abortion as Barack Obama does! In fact, one bishop is being investigated for denouncing Obama's position on abortion:

In a letter sent to the IRS on Wednesday (Oct. 22), Americans United for Separation of Church and State accused Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli of illegal partisanship for lambasting Obama's support of abortion rights.

In a column posted on the Diocese of Paterson's website and published in its weekly newspaper, Serratelli also compared Obama to King Herod, the biblical monarch who ordered the death of John the Baptist.

The bishop did not refer to Obama by name but only as "the present democratic (sic) candidate." [...]

Serratelli wrote that Obama has pledged, if elected president, to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, abortion-rights legislation the Catholic Church vehemently opposes.

"If this politician fulfills his promise, not only will many of our freedoms as Americans be taken from us, but the innocent and vulnerable will spill their blood," Serratelli wrote.

Since I don't believe our bishops are overwhelmingly biased in favor of Republican candidates and policies, I have to believe that if our bishops saw similar dangers to the souls of the faithful in voting for McCain, they'd say so.

And so, to me, this matter of "real true Catholic voters (tm) only vote for approved doomed quixotic third-party candidates regardless of the fact that these candidates can't possibly win and in no way will limit the evil of an Obama victory" starts to take on shades of other "Real True Catholic (tm)" controversies, from the "RTCs only go to Latin Masses" to "RTCs only homeschool" to "RTC women only wear skirts and dresses" to "RTCs think NFP is as bad as birth control even if the Vatican won't admit it" and so on.

This is so long that I think I need to conclude by saying, once again, that voting for a dq3 doesn't mean you're one of the people who believes it's the only moral way for a Catholic to vote. If you truly, enthusiastically support Baldwin or Schriner or your next-door neighbor who runs every year in a state that counts all write-in votes or whomever, then you needn't apologize to anyone for your thoroughly non-wasted vote. My remarks here are directed toward those who are convinced that even though the Church says we may vote to limit evil when both candidates support evil to some degree, especially when one candidate supports evil to a much greater and more damaging degree than the other, we still ought to insist that this is an impure and borderline-sinful way to vote. To those who hold this view, I say: my friends, when the Church says so I'll cheerfully line up behind you to vote for a dq3 whom I can support in good conscience. Until then, I refuse to condemn those who, however flawed they believe and even know McCain to be, are standing steadfastly against the much graver harm they are convinced Barack Obama will inevitably do, especially to the unborn.


Jeff Miller said...

Plus even on ESCR McCain and Obama are not in agreement.

McCain is against creating embryos for research which is where pretty much all of ESCR research is directed. McCain errs in thinking that you can use already created human person via IVF for experimentation. Obama totally supports clone and kill.

Rebecca said...

"It is hard to disprove the reality that the right of the unborn to live will be so terribly eroded under an Obama presidency that we may lose our chance forever to give them the legal protections they deserve as their fundamental human right."

Thank you for stating this so clearly. I'd like this to be shouted from the mountaintops. There are real and immediate consequences. IMO convincing a lot of people not to vote for McCain, when things are this close, could be enough to tip the balance in Obama's favor, with truly horrific and lasting results.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point about the dq3s' qualifications. Seems to me the ones to criticize a vote against Obama are basically just voting against McCain.

Rebecca said...

Hey, Anonymous, did you know that you can post a name, if you go to the "Name/URL" option? I couldn't figure out the google identity thing, and for awhile I posted as "anonymous" until I figured out I could type a name. I think it's better to use a name, because "anonymous" sort of evokes a blobby, dark thing, maybe wearing sunglasses and a trench least it does for me. You don't have to type in a URL.

Daddio said...

That was me. I was just too lazy to type in my email and password. Didn't mean to come across as dark and blobby.

I am starting to suspect, like the guys at CMR, that certain Catholics actually want Obama to win despite his pro-abortion stance. They like Obama so much on other issues that they are eager to "disqualify" McCain because of ESCR. They can't vote for Obama because of his rabid pro-abortion stance. But they do hope/expect Obama to win if they waste their own vote on a dq3 or abstain.

Too much mind reading, probably. But I can't shake the feeling that if they wanted Obama to lose, they would vote for the only guy who stands a chance of beating him. They ridicule that option by saying that you can't vote "against" someone, you can only for "for" someone. Okay fine, I vote FOR the guy who is AGAINST Obama.