Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More on Catholic voters and Romney

Yesterday, reader Rebecca in ID left this comment under the recent Romney post:
So...I still don't quite get it. Is your conscience telling you something my conscience isn't? I agree with you that Romney et al are just more of the ruling class and I am completely unimpressed with him, not to mention unedified. But it either is true or untrue that we can as Catholics in good conscience vote for a lesser evil to prevent a greater, right? Am I misunderstanding that teaching? If I am understanding it correctly, then the third-party vote or the refusal to vote is not (or should not be) a matter of a demand of conscience, but a difference in strategy. Where am I going wrong in my reasoning? Believe it or not, my question to you was prompted by a disagreement with my dh--he gave one of my friends a lecturing to because she stated that she intends to vote for Ron Paul. He kept insisting that you have to vote for Romney in good conscience, and I kept insisting that this is not what the Church teaches. Now it seems that you are saying that a well-informed conscience would not allow you to vote for Romney--or maybe you are just talking about your own private conscience, but then it seems that if this only applies to you, where is the discussion and what is it about? 
I think these are good questions, and I want to take a stab at answering them.  But please bear in mind: I’m not a trained Catholic theologian, nor do I play one on TV. :)

But here’s my best understanding as a Catholic laywoman who has been attempting to pay attention to these matters ever since the last election cycle (note: not very long).

We can never vote for a candidate who supports intrinsic evil IF (and it's an important if) we are voting for that candidate because of his support of intrinsic evil: that is, we like the evil and want it to happen.  Thus, it is not moral for a Catholic voter to vote for a pro-abortion candidate because the voter likes abortion and wants it to keep happening.

We can not, under ordinary circumstances, choose to support a candidate who supports intrinsic evil IF (again, important) a candidate who does not support intrinsic evil is running in opposition.  Given America's two-party system, many people would insert the word "viable" after "candidate" in the previous sentence: that is, just because a "no-evil" third-party candidate with no possible chance of success is running for election does not mean we must support that candidate over the two candidates from the parties who have actual chances of winning--but I don't have the proper qualifications to weigh in on that debate, other than to say it seems reasonable that if there really are only two possible winners one is not forced to support someone with no chance of winning.

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.

Now, if a Catholic says or writes something like this: "We have to vote for Romney to stop Obama!" then we can take that in good faith as shorthand for a belief that Romney doesn't support as much evil as Obama, that Romney will limit real harms from evils Obama supports, and that there are proportionate reasons to vote for someone with Romney's beliefs.  But if a Catholic says or writes something like this: "Anybody who claims to be a Catholic has to vote for Romney, and any Catholic who throws away his or her vote on some third-party candidate is not only an idealistic fool but is actually helping evil triumph over good!" is not saying anything like the same thing, and has to be challenged for saying it.

And those are the people I'm challenging, the Catholics who publicly or privately have said to me and others like me that we're not really being good Catholics about our potential votes since we have said we don't plan to vote for Romney.  I respect attempts to convince voters like me and to change our minds by highlighting what you think are the evils Romney will stop and/or the proportionate reasons to vote for him, but I can't respect what is nothing more than name calling and political tribalism.


Saphira said...

Thanks for clarifying. I think I understand and am in agreement with you in principle. I would like to see more discussion maybe on Romney vs. Obama, as at this point although I don't "trust" Romney and suspect he has little to no backbone, I just can't imagine him rabidly attacking people of conscience and gleefully promoting abortion the way Obama has, so at this point, I feel that I am going to be praying fervently that he win this election.

On a different topic...the girls and I finished The Telmaj tonight. They are practically *climbing the walls* wondering when the next book is coming out. And I enjoyed it so much I read until an hour past their bedtime and lost my voice.

Only criticism so far: They can't picture what the Panixi or the Loeans look like from your description, so they are picturing tall centaurs and Big Birds. Just so you know. :)

Nicholas said...

I'm pondering the 'rightness' of the pragmatism that perhaps one ought not vote for a minor 3rd candidate, because their perceived inability to win would make it a wasted vote. (Your personal disclaimers noted, and please gently correct me if I've taken your thoughts in the wrong direction!)

Surely if there is a 3rd candidate, who represents a morally clean(er) option, one would be morally bound to vote that way, regardless of one's best guess on how the majority of other votors might lean. We surely must be faithful and seek the Grace of God, thather than strategize according to the cynicism of man. Whether that outsider candidate ultimately "gets up" or not is in God's hands.

Just as God stirred up the heart of Cyrus King of Persia (Ezra 1:1) - the political pundits didn't see that one coming either - who knows how he will stir the hearts of His faithful on election day?

My own disclaimer: I'm not in the USA, but we routinely face similar moral considerations in the Australian electorate. (Where we also have two dominant parties, although it's not quite as polarised here. Independents and minority parties do play an active role in the Aussie system, at all levels of government.)

Erin Manning said...

Rebecca, first of all, *thank you!* And please tell your girls thank you from me too! I'm so excited that people are enjoying my book. :) As for the Panixi/Loeans: they've pretty much got it! The Loeans are definitely birdlike sentient beings, though they can't fly and have arms as well as vestigial wing-like structures (I'm enjoying the "Big Bird" comparison!). And the Panixi get their name (but that's all) from the Greek god Pan, so I picture them sort of like that--though definitely clothed and not at all satyr-like or creepy (though if you had to fight any in hand-to-hand combat it would be scary).

I am working hard on editing book two and hope to have it out by Thanksgiving...

Now, back to politics: you are definitely right in that Romney seems to be saying that he's against the HHS mandate. There have been claims, though, that a nearly identical provision was in place in Massachusetts under Romney's health care plan--though Romney says he didn't put it in there and fought to remove it. His record on abortion is definitely more mixed, and what worries me about that is that I don't know that his SCOTUS picks will end up being any good at all. But I do think Catholics can disagree about these kinds of details, which is why we can ultimately choose to vote or not to vote for Romney and have that be a moral decision.

Erin Manning said...

Nicholas, I'd be willing to hear arguments proposing the idea that sometimes we might have a moral obligation to support a third-party candidate. Unfortunately in the US, we don't really have a strong third party that does actually offer a morally sound choice. The Libertarian party has been, arguably, the "biggest" third party, and though I respect those who support this party I have issues with some of their positions myself. Other parties might almost be called "fourth" parties in that their candidates rarely make it on the official ballots and must be entered by hand (and not all states allow "write-in" candidates).

Sadly, the last few times a third-party candidate has even garnered enough votes in a presidential race to be worth talking about those candidates have been indisputably pro-abortion and not even remotely better alternatives to the major party candidates. I honestly think our national election system is badly broken, given the length of campaigns, the ability of corporations to fund candidates so that the winner will be indebted later (and they fund both sides, of course), and the undue influence of special interests instead of individuals on elections. But how do we fix that? It's a problem.

Kirt Higdon said...

It's probably worth adding that some people in good conscience might consider Obama to be the lesser evil. I never vote lesser evil myself and if necessary will abstain from voting or write in someone. It may be true that third and 4th party and independent candidates have no chance of winning but one person's vote has even less chance of determining the outcome of an election, so as Mark Shea points out, your vote is important for what it does to you. Voting lesser evil as a constant strategy when the overall political scene is getting more and more evil, simply means that you are endorsing more and more evil candidates with each election, so the greater evil isn't really being avoided.

scotch meg said...

One thing needs to be said in Romney's defense. I well recall being part of an abysmally small rally against gay marriage on the steps of the State House in Boston in 2002 or 2003, across the street from a (larger) crowd of gay rights supporters. Governor Romney came out and joined us and spoke out against gay marriage.

Yes, the gay marriage thing was and is a disaster for my state. But Romeny did what he could to oppose it - within the law - and to show what it was and what it would mean. This was not easy or popular, especially for a governor with a lot of party (read liberal Republican) support who supported and continues to support civil rights for ssa people in other ways.

I am no big fan, but it's important to be fair.

bearing said...

I thought you might find this link interesting:


It's an argument from a liberal commenter at The Atlantic Monthly explaining why he can't bring himself to morally vote for President Obama (short list: drone war in Pakistan, extrajudicial killing of American citizens, war in Libya without Congressional approval).

Even though he's a liberal and dislikes Romney, and so isn't going to vote for Romney either, he can't bring himself to pick a "lesser of two evils." Instead he plans to support Gary Johnson, and says, "He won't win. I am supporting him because he ought to."

I thought it might be interesting to you and your readers to see the same sort of argument that you are making, only being deployed by a liberal against a liberal argument that "a good liberal MUST vote for Obama." The issues you raise are bipartisan ones. It seems the cream that rises to the top of the major parties is often pretty rotten cream from anyone's perspective.

Here's a quote from the article: "Sometimes a policy is so reckless or immoral that supporting its backer as 'the lesser of two evils' is unacceptable." I think you'd agree that this sentiment is not just a liberal or a conservative sentiment!

FWIW, I am the pragmatic sort who will be voting for the lesser evil, so to speak, but I agree with you that it is a valid choice to support the best candidate even if he has little to no chance of winning.

Nikki said...

bearing beat me to it. I was going to post a link to that same article. I found it fascinating.

I particularly liked this, "I am not a purist. There is no such thing as a perfect political party, or a president who governs in accordance with one's every ethical judgment. But some actions are so ruinous to human rights, so destructive of the Constitution, and so contrary to basic morals that they are disqualifying."

Erin Manning said...

Bearing and Nikki, thanks for the link to that article. Fascinating!

A note to all: Joseph D'Hippolito has been banned from this blog in the past for general rudeness, incivility, and his fixation with Catholic bashing. I gave him another chance, but as usual, it took him very little time to cross the line again. So I'm reinstating the ban, and will delete his comments when he attempts to post them. If I have to, I'll go back to comment moderation (which I hate), but hopefully it won't come to that. If Joe wants to spend all of his time posting comments to every blog imaginable about how evil the Catholic Church is, how much he hates her, and how wicked anybody who stays Catholic must be, that's his problem, but it doesn't need to be mine. My advice to Joe: quit being a comment-coward and get your own blog.

vera said...

"I honestly think our national election system is badly broken, given the length of campaigns, the ability of corporations to fund candidates so that the winner will be indebted later (and they fund both sides, of course), and the undue influence of special interests instead of individuals on elections. But how do we fix that? It's a problem."

See, that's another reason I am an unvoter. There is only one way I know of how to fix it. If enough people walked away, the system would become delegitimized, and would have to reform itself. If there is another way, I sure would love to hear about it.

Saphira said...

This guy is actually looking pretty good to me:

Tony said...


Thanks for clarifying. If you indeed believe that Romney and Obama represent equal evil with regard to abortion, you're allowed to move on to the next most important issue, and weigh them in the balance. ;)

I started out planning to vote against Obama, for a number of different reasons. Not the least of which is his support of infanticide (denying advocate medical care to babies who survive abortion).

Mitt claims to be pro-life. I can understand your skepticism. But I believe if he is not truly pro-life, that he is pro-choice considering abortion a necessary evil, but not promoting it as a societal good like Obama and his CINO HHS Secretary Sebelius (who as Governor gave political cover to third trimester abortionist, Tiller the Killer).

But recently after reading up on Mitt and watching the RNC, I have changed my view and become a Romney supporter. Mitt appears to be a good man who commits good acts out of the campaign limelight. He donates between 15%-20% of his substantial earnings to directly help people (many of them from his church, which is where charity starts).

He also donates his time helping people, both as a missionary and a Bishop in the LDS church.

I consider his running mate a good man also, and a faithful Catholic supported by his Bishop.

I encourage you to read up on Romney from the alternative media (the Ordinary Ministers of the Media hate Mitt, and you'll get anything from slanted half truths to out and out lies) and make your own decision.

I will be hitting the pavement in a couple of weeks for Mitt.