Nobody who reads this blog regularly will be surprised to know that I admire Mark Shea very much; I think he is a talented writer and a sincere Catholic thinker who generously shares these talents with all of us on his blog and elsewhere.
In particular I think Mark's persistent efforts to remind his fellow Catholics that we can't approve of torture even if (or especially if!) "our guys" are the ones doing it have been a positive service to Catholics everywhere; we, like everyone else, need to be reminded that our Church's moral teachings trump our partisan leanings and our (often justifiable) concerns about the dangers of radical Islam. We aren't entitled to break the moral law for whatever seemingly sound reasons, and Mark has put forth a valiant effort in calling us to remember that whenever we drift away from what the Church is saying, we probably need to stop and ponder who is more likely to be wrong: ourselves, or the Church?
In these days leading up to the election, however, I've begun to find some of Mark's writings a bit troublesome. I want to be clear, here: Mark is not saying that people will sin by voting for John McCain, though he rejects the notion of doing so himself utterly on the grounds that McCain supports baby-killing just like Obama even if McCain's is presently limited to ESCR and Obama's isn't limited to the unborn; Mark also says that pro-life voters who keep voting for Republicans are like an abused wife who stays with her husband so as not to anger him further, saying: "Stop kidding yourself that the GOP is run by pols who actually care about the prolife movement. It isn't. It's run by people who find the prolife movement useful..." So people who vote for McCain aren't necessarily sinning, according to Mark--but they are being rather stupid and easily duped by people who don't care at all about the unborn except during election years, and then only in a sham way designed to get votes. Which doesn't mean these voters should do what Mark is doing and vote for a doomed quixotic third-party candidate, though this is (to Mark) clearly the only sane option.
With all due respect, I think Mark isn't really correct, here, on two counts: one, in that he seems to believe that people who decide to vote for McCain are cheerleaders for ESCR or plan to stand back (like that abused wife) and let McCain have his way with embryos without doing the utmost to stop him; and two, that the failure of Republicans to end abortion during their time of political dominance proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that they're all--or mostly, or at least their leaders--evil unborn-hating tricksters who have no intention of ever ending the murder of the unborn on the grounds that if they did we pro-life voters would immediately breathe a sigh of relief and then start voting for Democrats in droves because we really do think they're the morally superior party, all except for that abortion thing.
I'm exaggerating, of course. But what troubles me is that Mark really does seem to think that voting for a doomed quixotic third-party candidate (please, let's use the abbreviation dq3 from now on!) is the right thing to do, and that those of us who fail to realize this in time may not be guilty of actual sin, but we sure aren't doing anything good.
Now, if Mark was limiting his discussion to voters in non-swing states, he might have a point, in that I can no more hurt McCain's chances in Texas than Mark can hurt Obama's in Washington; so why not throw our votes to a dq3 candidate? Of course, as I mentioned in the comments section on Mark's post, votes for write-in candidates are often not counted unless the candidate receives a certain percentage of the vote (all but impossible, in a presidential election); so while it may feel emotionally satisfying to vote for Baldwin or Average Joe Schriner, the vote "counts" as much as leaving the presidential race blank--an equally emotionally satisfying option, without the downside of supporting a "professional" presidential candidate who, if truth be told, may be just a little nuts (and that goes for all the dq3 candidates, not one in particular).
But by making blanket statements which can't be proved or disproved to the effect that the Republican leadership is a cabal of secretly pro-abortion types who play us all for fools once every four years, Mark may be encouraging swing-state voters to sit this one out, or vote for a dq3--and if enough people do this, it may be enough to guarantee Obama the victory (well, that, plus all the deceased and second-grade and fictional voters ACORN has registered).
In no way am I suggesting that swing-state voter must vote for McCain, of course. A swing-state voter who genuinely believes McCain's support for ESCR makes him unworthy of the presidency or who is fired up with enthusiasm for, say, the Prohibition Party's exciting ticket of Amondson/Pletten for 2008 should vote accordingly, and more power to him/her! But Catholics in swing states who had already decided to vote for McCain in a deliberate attempt to keep Obama from becoming our next president and unleashing his pro-abortion policies--and judges--on an unwary nation should not for a moment think it is incumbent upon them to change their minds and vote for a dq3 as the only moral option for a Catholic voter in this election.
I understand the level of cynicism it's possible to attain during political seasons; as I've said before, I find it very tempting to drop out altogether, or to decide that a follower of Christ need not dirty his or her hands in the election booth. It's easy to decide (though a bit of a violation of the eighth commandment) that all politicians are dirty rotten scoundrels who will say or do anything to be elected, while they secretly revel in the killing of the unborn, the desperation of the poor and the oppressed, and the tears of orphans.
But if this past Sunday's Gospel reminded us of anything, it's that living as a follower of Christ in the world sometimes means rendering unto Caesar, even if Caeser is the last person on earth we want to render anything to. The Pharisees who set a trap for our Lord thought they had Him: if He said to pay the tax, why then, he was a supporter of a murdering usurper who oppressed God's own people! But if He said they shouldn't pay--why then, he was preaching insurrection and rebellion against the lawful authority! Our Lord's answer caught them off guard, and sent them slinking away.
Our votes are important--but they are just votes. We can't bring about the Kingdom of Heaven by voting for it; we must never vote against it, though, by voting for actual evil. When faced with two candidates, one of whom will certainly increase evil, and the other of whom may well limit it despite his own weaknesses in that area, we may, indeed, choose to vote to limit evil. It is not an act of stupidity, blind partisanship, or "abused wife syndrome" to conclude this; it is very much in line with the teaching of the Church.