Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Zmirak and Price and Shea, oh my...(or: a post with too many links in it)

It all started last Thursday, when I read this blog post by Dr. John Zmirak in which he draws a comparison between failing to vote for Romney on the grounds that Romney isn't pro-life enough to a sort of electoral onanism...no, really:
How manly it feels, refusing to “compromise.” How satisfying it is to flounce away from the playground with your marbles tight in your whitening hand: “That will show them. I won’t be fooled again by the party that holds out the carrot of Roe v. Wade to make us jackasses pull the cart. I’ll write in Ron Paul. Or Pope Pius IX. Or Eamon de Valera. I won’t compromise—I’m too much of a man for that.”

I felt that way and voted that way in 1996, 2000, and 2004. It helped that I lived in New York State—where any candidate much to the right of Saul Alinsky was already doomed.

But the first year I lived in a “swing state” (New Hampshire) where my vote might actually make a difference to the outcome—to the question of whether the next Supreme Court justice proposed would be a Scalia or a Sotomayor—my fun was over.

It was time to grow up. I actually had to choose between the alternative of doing my (little) best to push back against the gigantic evil that had overwhelmed my country, or toddling off like Onan to spill my vote upon the ground.
It's an odd little post, to be sure.  I usually admire Dr. Zmirak's clear and witty writing, but this time something seemed to be missing.  I left a comment or two along those lines, and then life in the form of an extremely busy weekend that began with unbunking some bunk beds and moving furniture around at home and continued with helping rearrange the choir area at church to accommodate an organ (!) a kind parishioner donated (!!) to us and ending with a cart-full dodger-style trip to the grocery store at the eleventh hour intervened.

So I had no idea Dr. Zmirak had responded to my comments until some commenters at Mark Shea's blog mentioned the matter beneath a post in which Mark linked to Dale Price's thoughtful consideration of how as a Catholic he might be able to vote for Romney.  Here's the thing: I lean more toward Mark's politics when Mark writes:
No.  He is not a good man.  He is a man who would abort his own grandchild–just like Obama.  He is a man who has lied repeatedly on multiple issues, including his own pro-abort record.  He is a man who has sent multiple signals that he has not the slightest intention of doing anything about abortion at all beyond a couple of minor bones to the prolife movement (Mexico city and semidefunding PP) in order to buy the silence and cooperation of dutiful prolifers who will prostitute themselves for war and torture for him as they did for Bush.  The embarrassing spectacle of watching the prolife movement try to get itself into the headspace of trying to say he is not merely the Barely Sucks Less candidate (Dale’s honest and clear-eyed assessment) but is actually a prolife candidate is the single greatest impediment to my voting for him.  Far more than any actual benefits to be derived from this odious man is the profoundly corrupting effect people like he and Scott Brown have had on the prolife movement.  If the salt loses its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot.  That is why I have been so adamant that the main thing to look at in this election has not been the essentially non-existent impact your vote will have on the election, but the immensely important impact it will have on you.
And yet, I have sympathy for Dale's argument when Dale writes:
But/However/Nonetheless Alert: He has promised in no uncertain terms to shred the HHS Mandate. Ditto his Catholic wingman, who made a big deal of it during the Veep debate.

Why do I believe Romney? Because it takes no political courage to shred it--it costs him nothing with any other constituency that's supporting him to do so. But it will needlessly alienate social conservatives if he doesn't. Being that Mitt's not remotely stupid, he'll do what he says on this one.
Not that long ago, in answer to a comment box discussion here at And Sometimes Tea, I wrote this:
In a race where both candidates support some intrinsic evil, it is possible morally to support one of the candidates given a) that one candidate supports less that is evil or will do more to limit the harm of the greater evil supported by the other and b) that there are proportionate reasons to support the candidate you reasonably believe and rationally expect will limit evil.

And here's where we get to Rebecca's question pertaining to individual conscience.  If Rebecca (hypothetically) believes that Romney will not support evil to the degree that Obama does and that Romney will in fact limit the harms possible from the evil Obama supports, AND that it is proportionate to vote for Romney (who supports some evils) to limit harm potentially caused by Obama (who supports other, putatively graver evils) she can vote for Romney in good conscience (given all the usual caveats about the informing of one's conscience, etc.).

Since I (not hypothetically) believe that Romney is not trustworthy about the evils he claims not to support (since he was pro-abortion a decade ago, presided over the gay "marriage" debacle in Mass., etc.), that he supports evils that are potentially every bit as grave as the ones Obama supports, and that if there truly is a proportionate reason to support Romney I have not yet discovered what that may be, I cannot in good conscience vote for Romney at all.
So: if Dale Price thinks that Romney will, in fact, shred the HHS mandate and that this is a proportionate reason to vote for Romney--good!  Since I, however, think that actions should be considered as well as words, and since (then) Governor Romney did force Catholic hospitals to dispense the morning-after pill in Massachusetts, I'm not entirely certain that Romney will so much shred the HHS mandate as withdraw it to cheers and then quietly reimpose it in various ways when nobody's paying attention.  It remains, to me, an open question as to whether there's any reason to trust Mr. Romney on his promise to get rid of the mandate (or on anything else related to pro-life issues, given his extremely mixed record and history on these issues).

Now, Dr. Zmirak, below his post, characterizes my position essentially as that of a single-issue voter for whom the issue of primary importance is something other than Life (that is, I'm not really pro-life if I refuse to vote for Romney).  Let me take a moment here to say how deeply I was moved by those people who came to my defense there and mentioned the matter on Mark Shea's blog (which is how I found out about it all)--really, I'm very much humbled by such kindness, and can't thank you enough.  To the matter at hand, though, I will say that I think it's a terrible idea to base one's pro-life bona fides on the question of the support of presidential candidates--and especially when one of those presidential candidates was pro-abortion until a mere ten years ago, created a state health-care system in Massachusetts which did cover abortion costs at taxpayers' expense, nominated both pro-abortion and pro-gay "marriage" judges to the Massachusetts courts, and otherwise behaved not at all like the social conservative he is running as now.  Is it possible that Mitt Romney has had a deep and spiritual conversion on the issue of abortion such that he now views with horror the idea that he ever thought human beings in the embryonic or fetal development state were disposable?  Sure, and one is at liberty to think so (though one will have to overlook his financial participation in a process which treats human beings in the embryonic state as commodities, as well as his current position that embryonic or fetal humans can be killed if their father was a rapist or a close relative of their mother, or if the mother's health is negatively impacted by pregnancy).  Is it also possible that Mitt Romney does not much care about the abortion issue and plans to ignore it for the most part when he is in office?  Sure, and one is also at liberty to think so (given that this has been the default position of most Republican presidents in the post-Roe era, and given that Romney has said things during the campaign that point this way).  Are these kinds of things the reasons why each individual voter must decide whether or not his conscience permits him to vote for Romney?  Yes.

In other words, it just isn't the case, despite Dr. Zmirak's insistence that it is, that the only people who won't vote for Romney are a) not really pro-life, b) suffering from scrupulosity, c) purists, d) defeatists, or e) electoral onanists who just won't man up and render unto Caesar...wait, now, that's a really unfortunate mixed metaphor.  But you know what I meant to say, right?


Alisha De Freitas said...

I read that post and was left confused. I don't get combining the sin of Onan and voting for a third party. It's just very strange. I also didn't appreciate the comparison to his drunken acquaintance. I mean, really?!?

Here's the scoop, Erin. Much to the disdain of many family and friends, I refuse to vote for either Obama or Romney. They're the opposite sides of the same coin, IMO. Living in Jersey, it doesn't matter much anyway. Even if I lived in a swing state, I'd still do a write-in. It's not because I'm unrealistic or a purist or uninformed. It's because I have to deal with my choice personally and spiritually. I'm just not very good at the cognitive dissonance required to support either candidate while detesting what they stand for.

bearing said...

As for me, I am willing to vote for a candidate I dislike (call it "choosing the lesser evil" if you like). I don't think it requires cognitive dissonance. What it requires is a certain acceptance that there is a limited amount of ground that can be gained in an election; that a vote is not a message of "I support this candidate's policies" but a message of "I would rather have this candidate's collection of policies than the other collections that I perceive are possible."

I also think that the corollary to accepting the limits of a vote is that we can be active in other ways. We can vote in primaries and caucuses and we can urge political parties themselves to take different stances. We can support dark horse candidates with cash or encouragement. We can write letters and band together in groups with like-minded people to increase our voices. We can act as watchdogs, keeping the people who do get elected as honest as possible, and pressuring them to change positions.

But I completely get the "having to live with yourself" phenomenon. As Catholics we know that our actions are not to be judged entirely by their usefulness. I know that in deciding to discipline and teach my children, there are some techniques that seem like they might "work" or be "useful" in controlling my children or in stopping a behavior but that would be wrong -- would harm our relationship, or maybe even harm the child. And so I don't apply those techniques, even though they might seem useful, because it feels wrong and I have to live with myself.

You could also think of it as a short term- long term tradeoff. Some people might mistake that from, "oh, you are trading the short term of getting the lesser evil elected for the long term of encouraging a better candidate to show up?" but that isn't the right calculation-- that is a possible aggregate outcome, not an indinidual tradeoff. Rather, it is the short- term tradeoff of having one's single vote add to the lesser-evil candidate, versus being able to say confidently, "I didn't support that guy, and I had a good reason," for much longer. Although the single votes do add up, the individual calculation is really for an individual's contribution, not for what you guess everyone else will do. And the truth is that a lesser-evil candidate wants your vote, and if the aggregate of people who noisily express distaste is large enough, he or she will be forced to tack that direction at least a little.

So I do understand, even though I take a view that I can live with having made a utilitarian vote, because I view elections as being basically utilitarian processes (unlike child discipline).

freddy said...

I didn't see any of this until last night, and had to walk away scratching my head. Generally I find John Zmirak to be a great Catholic writer, but his article in the Reg. was so over the top as to be almost incomprehensible.

I've had many charitable conversations with people who voice convictions similar to that of Dale Price or bearing (above). I find such conversations enjoyable and edifying.

Dr. Zmirak's hysterical screeching typifies other people with whom I've had conversations. Speaking as a mother, the "Do what I want or you're a poopy-head!" method of arguing has never had much traction. And I really thought Dr. Z. better than that.

Tony said...

I enjoyed Dr. Zmirak's article, and I completely understood the Onan reference. If you vote for a third party candidate with no chance of winning, you deny the life-giving potential of your vote.

Let me explain. Barack Obama advocates delivering a baby feet first, sticking a pair of scissors in her undelivered head, sucking out her brains and delivering her dead. He has even gone so far as to advocate allowing babies who have survived abortion to be left to die in the table without medical intervention.

Obama is a man who advocates abortion from conception to even past birth. Born babies are not safe with him. And it's a good bet that he'll appoint Supreme Court justices who think like he does.

Romney is a man who says he's pro-life. He went so far as to choose a faithful, pro-life Catholic as his running mate. He was pro-choice in the past, but never as pro-choice as Obama. So even in the worst case (he's spoofing us) he'd probably not be as bad as Obama. This means babies saved.

If Obama is elected, and those babies are not saved, you'd better be ready to explain your decision in terms that make sense to them when you stand before the throne of Jesus at your final judgment.

I cannot minimize evil and vote for the candidate I wanted to. I supported Rick Santorum, but he didn't win. I've had to settle for second best.

I'll be able to tell the babies that died that I tried to save as many of them as I could.

The Jerk said...

Tony, what are you going to tell all the babies who will die after Romney is elected and does what every GOP president does about abortion?

Tony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony said...

Jerk, read what I wrote in the last line of my comment.

The Jerk said...

I read what you wrote. It's not as convincing as you seem to think. The GOP will never stop abortion. That would be bad for their business.

freddy said...

Dear The Jerk,

I think Tony meant to point out to you his *second-to-last* paragraph rather than his last one. You know, where he says he supported that great pro-life hero *Rick Santorum*!

(sorry,laughing too hard to type)

And that Romney was actually his *second* choice.

(sorry, Tony, but really, that's comedy gold!)

bearing said...

I think it smacks of hubris to call anyone's vote "life-giving."

Red Cardigan said...

All: I keep deleting comments from Joseph D'Hippolito, but he keeps trying. If you see a comment of his before I have a chance to delete it, just ignore it. He has been banned from this blog.

John Henry said...

FWIW, Erin, I couldn't agree with you more. Personally, I'm thoroughly tired of political arguments. When two bad men can make two good people fight with each other, something is wrong.

E.Hunt said...


I just wanted to thank you, really. I subscribe to Mark Shea's blog (but I don't read the comments, so I didn't find you until his post today about Dr Zmirak's posts, that ended with a reference to YOUR blog) because I grew up in Seattle, moved to CA as an adult "non-denominational Christian", and found myself only a few years ago, wandering into the Catholic faith, and finding it the home that my heart sought. I only was confirmed Easter of last year, so this is my first full-fledged election year as a Catholic, and it has been HARD. Very hard.

Mark Shea's blog posts are very informative, very instructional, and I have learned much from him. But I appreciate your blog so much, too. This post of yours, with all the links, yes, but your own thoughts... it pulls stuff together for me. I have been queasily on the fence this election, aware of my newfound Cathlic conscience, but unable to warmly support either "real"/major/winnable candidate. You make it make sense. You give my mind some meat to chew on.

So, yeah. Just a thank you. I line up with your way of thinking even more than with Mark Shea's, and I feel less alone in the universe now. Thanks for that. :)

Robin E. said...

Jerk, Tony is not claiming that the GOP will stop abortion. But neither the GOP, nor Mitt Romney, is aggressively pushing for the most radical abortion agenda this side of China, either. To refuse to join forces with those who could defeat that radical pro-death agenda is indefensible. We can't wait for the Holy Father himself to run for office. And are you going to deny that all legislation limiting abortion and euthanasia has come from the GOP? Is that utterly valueless? If you can't save every child, can you at least save a few?

Also, I'm no fan of Mitt Romney, but I don't recall him ever so much as hinting that he would abort his own grandchild (unlike McCain, whom I voted for, and would again, if he were the only choice against Sauron). We can't see into this guy's soul, but it's at least possible that his conversion to the pro-life side is real - incomplete, certainly - but no less a movement towards the good than any of the rest of us, orthodox Catholics included, are required to make everyday. Obama, and his entire administration and party, leaves no room for any benefit of the doubt. The Democrat agenda is pure, pro-death evil on the march. Woe be to any of us who turns his back on his imperfect fellows when asked to join this fight.

eulogos said...

Well, it seems pretty clear to me that Romney is better than Obama on the prolife issues, not that he is perfect on them;of course he is not. I'd much prefer Ryan for those reasons. But I have no scruples about voting for someone who is only the better of the two candidates, not the best he could be. I even have no scruples about voting for someone who espouses some things I disagree with strongly, so long as I think he is a better candidate in some significant way. And I certainly don't have to "like" him.

There seem to be several good reasons to vote for Romney. One is medicare and old age. I don't think his way of reducing medical costs is going to be denying procedures and medications for people just because they are of a certain age.This may well be a selfish consideration, as I am fast approaching that certain age myself.

Another is economics. I think he will be a much tougher budget balancer than Obama. I think he will be much tougher on entitlement programs. Since I work in an agency which adminsters one of these, I have a fair degree of cynicism about how they work and about some of the recipients. I think Romney's ideas about taxes and how to stimulate the economy are more sound.

Another is defense. You wouldn't see the kind of weakness that Obama has shown with the recent embassy attack, which Obama lied about last night, by the way, if Romney were the Commander in Chief. Obama was pusing the "riot over a months old movie" meme for nearly two weeks, even apologizing to Muslims because some American exercised his 1st amendment right to make an idiotic movie. Our country was attacked and we essentially have done nothing. I consider Muslim extremism to be a serious threat to our country, and I would rather have Romney/Ryan at the helm than Obama/Biden.

Furthermore, even if Romney doesn't care so much about prolife as I do, he is sure to appoint strict constructionist Supreme Court Justices, or at least, ones who lean way more that way than any Obama would appoint. These are likely to make better issues on abortion issues than anyone Obama would appoint, and on religious freedom issues as well, which are more likely to be coming before the court soon.

I live in NY which will go for Obama, although my county will surely go for Romney. I wish I did live in a swing state so my vote would count for something!

I am not sitting in judgment on anyone's conscience. I assume we will all vote based on what to us seems overall best for our country. It isn't surprising to me that we should all weigh these issues somewhat differently and come to different conclusions.

Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

better *decisions* on abortion issues

Susan Peterson

bearing said...

Has anybody considered that a Romney presidency could lead to Ryan being at the top of the ticket in a future election? That could be a good thing.

bearing said...

And Susan Peterson has another good point -- if we were to stipulate that the two likely candidates are essentially the same with respect to the most important issue -- life issues --then may we decide between them based on lesser policy differences? If Mr. Romney is no better than President Obama with respect to abortion, can I choose Mr. Romney because I think he'll be better for business in this economy? Or Mr. Obama if I thought he would be better for some other reason?

John Parker said...

Romney "presided" over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in the same way Obama would've "presided" over the dismantling of Obamacare if the Supreme Court had repealed it. i.e., he didn't. It was obviously out of his hands once the court decided. The fact that this is still a talking point against him baffles me.

also Shea's hysteria on Iran (a land invasion is not happening nor should it, but would it kill people like him to admit that a nuclear Iran is not an acceptable part of an international equilibrium) is still obnoxious.

Unknown said...

Tomorrow, October 20, Americans will rally against the HHS mandate in more than 140 cities around the country.

Rally locations:

Let’s all make our voices heard!