Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Predictability of Cynicism

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.


Marisa said...

Thank you very much for stating so clearly what has been troubling me greatly about Mark's posts of late. I have literally twisted my conscience up in knots trying to decide how to vote (McCain or dq3). I do live in a battleground state (VA) and my vote matters a great deal and I can't help bit feel that withholding my vote from McCain just opens the door a little more for Obama to win my state. I know Obama will set the pro-life cause waaaayyyy back. I do believe that the worst McCain can do is not move it forward much further. Mark's post have often left me feeling little and stupid, not to mention morally inferior since I can't hold to his standards. It is easy for him to go on and on about it all when the outcome for his state is already set. Not to mention that I think he has crossed the line and passed judgment on a great number of people.

Rebecca said...

Yes, thank you Red. I agree. I desperately care about abortion and that is why McCain has my vote. He made it clear that he would appoint pro-life Supreme Court Justices. I am terribly frightened of what will happen under an Obama regime regarding abortion; I fear a possibility of such a leader bringing this country into open persecution of those who recognize natural moral law. McCain has my vote.

Please Red, could you clarify about the ESCR--readers here have posted in comments some weeks ago articles pointing to a turn-around in McCain's position on this. What's the real story? I can envision McCain being confused about it, but he doesn't seem the type to push for gov. funding of it.


Anonymous said...

I think that Mark Shea is also unrealistic about what the Republicans could have done in the Congress with the thin majorities that they've held in recent years. Unless a majority in the Senate is filibuster-proof, it isn't much good against a determined opposition. And the measures taken to reduce the number of abortions, such as the partial-birth abortion ban, were hard fought and not at all easy to pass. And in considering the Republican party, just look at the Republican primaries; Rudy Guiliani got absolutely nowhere because ordinary Republican voters won't support the pro-choice candidate. Unfortunately, that kind of thing doesn't happen on the Democrat side--I wish it did!

If Barack Obama is elected, he's promised to make the Freedom of Choice Act his first priority, sweeping away all restrictions on abortion of any kind! I think this is something that we want to prevent.

Scott W. said...

I have no delusions about the GOP--they are lousy pro-life allies, but they are still pro-life allies nonetheless, and as I see it, you should only break an alliance when there is manifest and grave betrayal. That hasn't happened yet. It almost happened when pro-abort, pro-gay marriage, I'd-torture-Jack-Bauer Guiliani was a serious contender, but he dropped off the planet quickly, giving evidence that the alliance, however shaky, still holds. Rather than an abused spouse, I see the relationship more like a neighbor you lend money and lawn equipment to who returns it only after lots of persistent complaining. Mark Shea asks quite reasonably, what about 2012, 2016, etc. and when does it end? That I don't know. But I do know that we need to get involved long before the election rolls around instead of waking up around June of an election year and saying, "What?! These guys are my choices? They suck!" So I don't blame the GOP for its death-by-1000-cuts approach to pro-life issues, I blame those of us, myself included, who show up late. But just because there is lots of blame to go around in the pro-life camp, it doesn't mean we should be resigned to let America's Suicide Attempt called Obama roll through seriously unopposed.

Daddio said...

There are only two possible outcomes. One is clearly worse. If Mark Shea lived in Ohio, he would vote for McCain. I don't see why we should do any differently just because we have the luxury of "making a statement" in solidly blue or red states. Do not throw in the towel if you live in a blue state. Do not take your sensible neighbors for granted if you live in a red state.

Daddio said...

Good point, Scott. McCain does have a 0% NARAL approval rating, after all. And he did pick Palin for VP. Even if that was just to pacify us pro-lifers, that's a pretty big bone to toss. And it elevates her to the national stage and sets her up for her own future presidency if things go well under McCain (or if he dies... sorry to be blunt). I hardly think we're only being paid lip service.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, a more realistic and less cynical construct is that should Mr. McCain 'win' the election, there is the great likelihood that with running mate in-tow they will be running around at everyone's beck and call, just as the Republicans seem to be doing now. Whereas 1) Mr. Obama has stated his political leaning quite clearly (and, it is NOT totally distasteful--considering the current state of affairs), plus 2) it would seem likely that with a President Obama, there would be some OVERALL organized intelligence in leadership positions, instead of what seems to be the last-minute machinations of Mr. McCain.

In some respects, a president is an inspirational leader, and someone that seems to aspire to an openness (vs. closed to discussion with the adversary), would seem to be a best fit when there are more than one valid viewpoints on the table.

And, as for that matter of whether the US is a democracy, unless the Catholics run a candidate on their own political party, then everyone's viewpoint is considered valid, as is the power of a single vote.

I do not read other Catholic blogs regarding politics, so do not know who Mr. Shea is, but I do enjoy reading Red's strong opinions, as well as respondents.

matthew archbold said...

I sometimes wonder if I'm stupid because I don't see all the shades of gray that others do in this election. Nice job Red.

Babs said...

A clear statement about a growing habit of muddled thinking among Catholics. It is so utterly frustrating to me.

I absolutely do not respect Shea's position and Daddio has it just right about the "luxury" of the statement... it grants the vote a sort of moral purity its function cannot support.

A vote for anyone other than McCain is a real vote for two more liberal YOUNG pro-death justices who will legislate from the bench for thirty years. I mean, Obama isn't stupid! And, the way things are going, he'll have a FILLIBUSTER-PROOF majority in both houses. This is absolutlely not the time for third-party nonsense.

Let's respect McCain for his pro-life position too. He has an established record that has divided him from many who would help him politically for many, many years.

Right Said Red said...

Well said Red.

The other Red

Matt1618 said...

I throw my thanks in too, Red. The American Life League took a stance similar to Mark's back in 2004. But, again, Fr. Frank Pavone with Priests for Life has said that we may never choose the lesser of two evils because we must never choose evil at all. But we can choose one that will limit evil. That's the distinction.

freddy said...

Oh, gee. I feel like the goldfish in the pirhana tank, but here goes.

I live in Ohio. I am not voting for McCain. I did not vote for George W. in the last election. I believe that America will some day be better off when the Dems and GOP finally merge into one party and one of the 3rds becomes the "other party." Won't live to see it, I know, but have to start somewhere!

It wasn't hard-headed pragmatism that dared to stand up to British imperialism -- I hope the US will always have room for dreamers, idealists, and folks who just get fed up with politicians.