Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is Voting 'None of the Above' the Least Evil Choice for 2012?

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets another fight for his cause
Should take care:
He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle.
Since not to fight for your own cause
Really means
Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause

—Bertolt Brecht


In my last article I wrote about my revised maxim of voting based on what seems to reasonably follow from Church teaching.  My conclusion was that we needed to discern which was the least evil before deciding to vote for the opposition party vs. not voting or voting for a Third Party.  That article was more of a general principle to consider.  This time, especially in light of recent evidence of hostility to the Church, I think it is time to ask whether it is true that voting for a third party/no party is in fact the least evil.

I started off with this controversial poem because I believe it does illustrate the issue which must be considered when choosing how to vote in 2012.  I am not saying that whoever votes for a third party or declines to vote is guilty of refusing to fight.  Rather, I am saying we must consider whether such a vote will result in a greater evil.

Catholics always need to remember that a mindset of always voting for Party [X] is not a proper attitude.  Party views change over time and must always be reevaluated in light of the unchanging truths given to us by Christ.


This kind of article runs the risk of being perceived as being motivated by partisanship because it will judge the reality of the Political Parties.  Nowadays, labels of conservative or liberal are slapped on everything as a substitute to thinking.  However, this article is an attempt to work philosophically using the reality of the political situation and the teachings of the Church in search of an answer.

I am NOT trying to claim that the conclusion I reach is one which is binding under the pain of sin however.  Rather it is a case of, "Given what we know, what seems to be the least evil?"

Also, please keep in mind I am primarily thinking of the Presidential election.  Some Congressional and local elections may have the same considerations.  Others may have candidates who differ from the norm of each political party (There are Pro-Life Democrats out there and Pro-Abortion Republicans for example).

Depending on who the Republicans nominate (it seems a foregone conclusion that Obama will again be the Democratic nominee), the situation may change from what I am exploring in 2011, as there will be a specific candidate to evaluate.

Ultimately this article will conclude with a statement that I do not know what is the least evil (so that will save you some time wading through it) but it is my hope that when it comes to making such a decision, this article will give the person some things to consider.

And, as always, this blog should never be interpreted in a way that is in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church.  The reader who wants to use this article to refute Bishop X uses this article wrongly.

Four Voting Choices for 2012

For Catholics in 2012, we essentially have four options for the Presidential elections.  These are:

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Hopefully we shall add some clarity as to how we should consider them as options.

The Reality of the Two Party System

The United States is effectively a two-party system.  Yes we do have minor parties, and yes we did have a situation where one political party became extinct and was replaced by another once.  However, barring a major upheaval, the person elected to the presidency in 2012 will either be a Democrat or a Republican.  Not a member of the Reform Party, Green Party, American Independent Party or a Libertarian.  This is because far too few American voters will vote for a third party.

Therefore a vote for a minor party or not voting will not change the outcome without massive dissatisfaction with the system which does not appear to be present at this time.

However, a third party vote can play a "spoiler" role.  In the 2000 elections, Ralph Nader running on the Green party ticket split the Democratic party vote.  If those 97,488 Green Party votes in Florida had gone to Al Gore instead of to Ralph Nader, Al Gore would have been elected regardless of issues with hanging chads and butterfly ballots (Gore lost Florida by 537 votes).

What we can learn from this is that so long as we have a two-party system, a liberal voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Republicans and a conservative voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Democrats.  An undecided voting for a third party or not voting will merely reduce the voting pool by 1.

So, to sum up:

  1. The US is essentially a two party system
  2. We will continue to be a two party system unless there is such a wide level of disgust against both parties that a third party seems to be a good alternative.
  3. Voting for a third party or not voting will not change the fact that, unless there is a (currently non existent) wide level of disgust with both parties, either a Democrat or a Republican will be elected to the presidency in 2012.

The Lesser of TWO Evils

We can see from this that the statement "lesser of two evils" is still true even if one should vote for a third party.  We need then to look at the positions of the two parties in relation to Church teaching.  It seems to me there are four basic positions a party can have.  This list is done from the perspective of best to worst.

  1. The party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.
  2. The party agrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but not lesser issues.
  3. The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on lesser issues.
  4. The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.

Now there can be differing degrees of agreement (from lukewarm to fervent) and disagreement (from indifference to hostility).  So if both parties were in category #1, a fervent support would be superior to a lukewarm support and if both were in category #4, indifference would be a lesser evil than outright hostility.

Now, I think we can agree that neither party falls into category #1 (party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  Nor does either party fall into category #4 (The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  So it seems that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will either fall into category #2 or #3.  Category #2 is superior to #3 – not because the "lesser" issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that to fail to be with the Church is disastrous for the nation.

What are the Intrinsic Issues?

The Church teaches the following are vital, and cannot be denied without dehumanizing people and creating an evil society (evil meaning a severe lack moving away from the good):

  1. The fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.
  2. The recognition of the heterosexual family as the building block of society.
  3. The freedom to practice one's faith free from government coercion.

To deny #1 would be to claim that one person has the right to arbitrarily end the right to life of another person and that some lives are worth less than others.  To deny #2 is to weaken the basic building block on which society is based.  To deny #3 is to claim that the government has the right to coerce a person to act against what they believe is right.

So, in practical terms, a party which supported abortion on demand, euthanasia and the like would be violating #1.  A party which sought to give the same standing to homosexual "marriage" and other non-family sexual relationships as to the traditional family would be violating #2.  The party which sought to interfere with institutions run by a religious group or to institute policies which force a person to choose between his beliefs and his livelihood would be violating #3.

With this in mind, we can look at the two big political parties and see where each party falls.

This is Where the Risk of Being Accused of Being Partisan Comes into Play

(Again, I want to make this clear: It is not that other issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that they cannot be ignored or made out to seem less important than, say, immigration or health care reform).

I think this is where a person who dislikes what I have to say will find an excuse to accuse me of partisanship, so let me again clarify that I am not writing with the perspective that disagreeing with me is sinful.  I am writing from the position that based on Church teaching, while there is not a good and a bad, there is a worst and a less bad when it comes to the positions of the two parties, and we need to acknowledge this to make an informed decision on how we should vote.

I think it is obvious that the Obama administration is not only opposed to the Church on these intrinsic issues, but is actually hostile to the Church on these issues.  In the four categories I mentioned earlier, the Democratic Party, so far as national office goes, seems to be defined as #3: The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on some lesser issues.

So how does the Republican Party fare on the issues?  They generally seem to be anywhere from lukewarm to moderate in favor of the Church position on these issues.  Yes, their support is far less than it should be, and they seem to be half-hearted about defending these issues.  In some states (New York for example), the party is actually in opposition to the Church on these issues.  However, we can be sure that the Republicans will not introduce new legislation which increases these evils.

The Republican candidates do seem to be in opposition of varied levels to some of the social teachings of the Church.  I was certainly appalled watching the Republican debate hearing the major candidates seeming to take positions which were against the Church understanding on justice.  However, on the intrinsic issues, the Republican Party at least gives them token support in contrast to the hostility of the Democratic Party.  So, we would most probably put them right on the edge of group #2.  Their support is not so low as to claim they are opposed to the Church teaching on intrinsic issues, but they are not fervent supporters.

This leaves us with this assessment of the two parties:

  • The Democratic Party is strongly hostile towards the teaching of the Catholic Church on intrinsic issue and agrees with the Church on some lesser issues.
  • The Republican Party gives lukewarm support for the Catholic teaching on intrinsic issues and tends to disagree on some lesser issues.

Lukewarm support is better than active hostility, so it seems that of the two parties, the Democratic Party is the greatest evil in the 2012 Presidential elections at least.

Therefore one choice is eliminated as being acceptable for Catholic voters. 

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Now we must ask about the remaining three choices.

Is the Third Party or Not Voting An Acceptable Choice?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

—Attributed to Edmund Burke

Again, like it was with the Bertolt Brecht poem, I am not saying that the Third Party vote or declining to vote is the equivalent of good men doing nothing.  Rather I am saying all must consider the consequences of their vote and form their conscience with the teaching of the Church.

So if we recognize that a party which is expressly hostile to the Catholic Church on these issues is the greater evil, and if we recognize that the third party or non-vote will not change the fact that the 2012 elections will either put a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it seems that the Catholic pondering such a vote must consider whether his vote will promote the least evil or whether it will help enable the greater evil to be elected.

Now of course, the person does not intend the bad end of allowing the greater end of allowing the worst candidate to be elected.  If they did will such an end, that would be sinful indeed.

But to be honest, it truly is a hard call in making a decision for 2012.  The American political scene is truly wretched for Catholics.  There is no "good" party to vote for.  Rather we merely have the choice of which is the least offensive choice – which is the least harmful to the state of souls in America.

As a personal opinion, I believe the option to decline to vote is not acceptable to Catholics.  That is essentially a state of good men doing nothing.  This would leave us with either the option of voting for a third party or voting for the lesser of two evils.  This eliminates another choice and leaves us with two.

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Some Considerations in Voting for a Third Party (Personal Opinions to follow)

One argued reason to vote for a third party, in light of the fact that it tends to benefit the opposition seems to be to send a warning to the party that it must change its ways or lose support.  I think (again, personal opinion here) that such a response is valid on those occasions when a candidate adopts a position which is in opposition to Church teaching (in California, we've had elections where both parties were pro-abortion and I've felt obligated to vote for a third party).  When this is not the case I think (personal opinion) we need to be very cautious in taking this route.

It's long been a dream of mine that for one election, all Catholics refuse to vote for the two main parties to send them a warning that our vote counts.  However a priest I once knew gave a response which reflects the sad truth of American Catholics.  To paraphrase, he said Catholics aren't a bloc.  They're as divided as the rest of the country so this could never happen.

Sadly, I think he was right.  So the idea of sending a message to a party will likely never be effective barring an unforeseen upheaval in this nation.

So ultimately, I believe there is only one valid reason to vote for a third party in 2012, and that is the reason of conscience.  For some people, conscience simply forbids them to vote for the Republicans.  If an individual's conscience convicts them that they would do evil in voting for either party, then they must follow their conscience rather than do what they think is evil… but they must be sure their conscience is formed in harmony with Church teaching (this last part is not personal opinion).

The Catholic Task is Not Done on November 6th 2012

However, whether one chooses the Republican Party as the least evil choice or whether one feels they cannot vote for either major party in good conscience, our task is not over on November 6th 2012 (Election Day).  Whichever party wins in 2012, we are obligated to stand and speak out about what the nation must do and must reject.  If the victorious party goes the wrong way on an issue, we are obligated to voice our objections and not merely say, "Hey I voted, that's enough."

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