New comments link for Part 4! (TypePad says they’re working on this!)
SDG here (not Jimmy).
In previous posts, I’ve argued that, on the basis of what Catholic moral teaching understands as fundamental moral principles, the Obama–Biden ticket is far and away the more problematic of the two major-party candidacies, and the McCain–Palin ticket is far and away the less problematic of the two.
I would like to be able to leave the point there. Unfortunately, it has become necessary to make a defense for pro-life Catholics and others who agree with the above assessment — who, whatever objections, misgivings and reservations they may have about McCain–Palin, regard McCain–Palin as less problematic than Obama–Biden, who would prefer a McCain–Palin victory to an Obama–Biden victory — supporting and voting for McCain–Palin.
I don’t mean a defense of the thesis that such voters must vote for McCain–Palin. I mean a defense of the thesis that they may do so.
On first blush, this would seem to be too intuitive and obvious to need defending. Of course you vote for the candidate you hope to see win — what else?
As is often the case with intuitive insights, the reality turns out to be more complicated when you stop and think about it, with some conceptual speed bumps along the way. At the same time, also as is often the case, the intuitive insight is basically on the money. To support and vote for the candidate you hope to see win — or, as I’ve put it in previous posts, for the candidate you regard as the least problematic viable candidate — is always morally licit.
However, as I noted in my first post, some serious and thoughtful Catholics, including my friend Mark Shea and his sometime co-belligerent Zippy Catholic, have suggested or argued that McCain’s support of embryonic stem-cell research makes it objectively wrong for any Catholic to vote for him as well as Obama — even though Obama supports ESCR as well as abortion, euthanasia and other intrinsically evil policies. (Added: Zippy has taken exception to my original characterization of his views, arguing that "in circumstances like ours there is no proportionate reason to vote for a presidential candidate who supports and promotes a policy of murdering the innocent." Mark seems at times to have proposed a similar view regarding voting for a candidate who supports any intrinsically evil policy.) Thus, on such a view, Catholics who support and vote for either major-party ticket, whatever their sincerity or their culpability may be, are engaged in objectively wrong behavior.
Among other things, it has been argued that voting for a candidate who supports objective evil as the lesser of two evils normalizes that level of evil as "the new normal." It has also been argued that voting for a candidate who supports objective evil involves remote material cooperation in evil, which requires a proportionate reason to be justifiable. But no one vote has any effect at all on the outcome of an election, the argument goes, so there is no proportionate reason.
The only moral alternatives, on this view, would seem to be (a) voting for some third-party candidate, however quixotic or hopeless, or (b) not voting at all. Mark and Zippy have thus become outspoken advocates of voting for a quixotic third-party candidate, strongly resisting any attempt, not only to encourage or pressure other Catholics to vote for McCain, but even to justify a Catholic vote for McCain.
Many Catholics and others who feel strongly about defeating Obama and wish to vote for the one ticket that could conceivably beat him have become unsettled by such claims, and are concerned that they cannot support or vote for McCain–Palin without betraying their faith. A growing number of Catholic voters, many apparently swayed by this scrupulous line of thinking, are joining Mark and Zippy in advocating quixotic candidates such as Chuck Baldwin (who, while he advocates no intrinsically evil policies, seems to be a bit of a kook) and Joe Schriner (a journalist and activist who seems to have some good ideas).
To the extent that quixotic-vote advocates may feel that the most prudent and productive course is to register dissent from all forms of intrinsically immoral policy by voting for a third-party candidate, they are within the bounds of legitimate prudential judgment.
However, to the extent that quixotic-vote advocates have been influenced by concerns over the alleged unjustifiability of voting for any candidate who supports any intrinsically immoral policy, even when the only other viable candidate is far worse, they have been led astray. Such concern is, I submit, unnecessary, unfounded and deeply unfortunate. Catholic moral theology does not
support the scrupulous conclusion that one cannot support or vote for
the candidate one regards as the least problematic viable candidate
unless that candidate is free of all support for intrinsically evil
To the extent that some quixotic-vote advocates have led others to believe that a vote for any candidate who supports any intrinsically immoral policy is objectively wrong, even when the only other viable candidate is far worse, I’m afraid that, with the best of intentions, they have done those others, and their country, a real disservice. By taking to public fora like blogs to actively influence Catholics in significant numbers to believe that they cannot vote for McCain in good conscience, it is in principle not impossible that quixotic-candidate advocates could help peel away critical support from McCain in battleground states, thereby indirectly contributing to an Obama victory. Morally speaking, this is not the same as actually supporting or voting for Obama, but the outcome for the common good of the country is no better for that.
In this and following posts I hope to contribute some needed clarity to the subject. Can informed and serious Catholics legitimately vote in good conscience for McCain–Palin in an effort to defeat the most pro-abortion major-party candidate in history? In a word: Yes. We. Can!
First, a brief summary of the argument.
The outcome of any election has implications for the common good. In any election that offers more than one possible outcome, different outcomes will have differing implications for the common good, almost always including both positive and negative implications for any outcome. (In American presidential politics, once the primaries are over, the campaign underway and the VP choices announced, the number of possible outcomes is in a basic sense no more than two, and strictly limited to the major-party tickets. Note that we are concerned here with possible outcomes, not theoretical scenarios.)
Comparing and contrasting the implications for the common good of possible outcomes may be complex and uncertain, but it will often be possible for individual voters to arrive at prudential judgments regarding how positively or negatively they believe any possible outcome is likely to impact the common good, and thus to arrive at a preferential ranking of possible outcomes — or, in other words, a preferential ranking of viable candidates. This doesn’t necessarily mean liking or approving of any of the possible outcomes in any general way, only not regarding possible outcomes as equally desirable or undesirable. (In American presidential politics, this will almost invariably mean regarding one of the two major-party candidates as preferrable to, or less problematic than, the other.)
In any election that offers more than one possible outcome, opinions among the electorate will differ widely, not only regarding the preferability of one candidate or another, but also the reasoning and the criteria for arriving at such judgments, even among those who agree on a particular candidate. (This is emphatically the case with our sharply divided American electorate.) There may in fact be no one policy, priority or factor that unites all who prefer a particular candidate, other than their common preference for their candidate over the major-party rival.
Preferring one possible outcome to any others — regarding one viable candidate as preferable to or less problematic than any other viable candidates — seems to more or less entail hoping (or regarding it as in the interest of the common good) that the preferred possible outcome occurs, that the less problematic viable candidate wins. This in turn seems to more or less entail hoping that potential voters who share our preference for one viable candidate over any other(s) in fact vote for him in greater numbers than potential voters who feel otherwise will vote for his rival (on a state-by-state basis, in enough states to give him an electoral college victory). In other words, we believe that best possible outcome of the election as regards the common good depends on voters like us, voters who share our assessment of the candidates, voting for our preferred viable candidate, by a critical margin.
What we wish to see other voters like ourselves do for the sake of the common good, we bear some responsibility or obligation to do ourselves. If we believe the common good is best served by voters like ourselves voting a certain way, that is how we ought to vote. How much responsibility we have in this regard may vary with circumstances (such as which state we live in), and other courses may sometimes be justifiable, including in some cases voting quixotic, which may also serve the public good in various ways. However, the benefit for the public good of voters voting in numbers for the least problematic viable candidate is never nonexistent (and always proportionate to the cooperation in evil), so the obligation to vote for the candidate we regard as the least problematic viable candidate is never nonexistent. And what we are in any degree obliged to do is always permissible to do.
That’s the short version. My next post will start to explore the argument in depth.