Trying to figure out the calculus here

Trying to figure out the calculus here October 3, 2012

I’ve been continually instructed that when I urge people to vote their conscience and not be slaves to the party system, I am effectively urging them to cast their vote for Obama since, as I am constantly told, a vote for a third party is *really* a vote for Obama because it’s not a vote Romney, whom we must all serve and obey.  I’ve been as resistant to the right wing idea that our job as citizens is to serve the party as I am to the left wing idea that our job as citizens is to serve the state.  I have this crazy old-fashioned notion that Americans should recover the pre-Servile State idea that both party and state exist to serve us and that an election campaign is a job interview and we, not the candidates, are the boss.

This has been roundly denounced, of course, and appeals to “the math” keep coming up.  “The math” somehow is supposed to show that a vote for Candidate C is not really a vote for Candidate C, but a minus vote for Candidate R and a plus vote for Candidate O.

Imagine my confusion then, when one of my readers wrote me today saying:

I would say this, as someone who supported Obama over Hillary in 2008, that he ran against our deadly escapades in the Middle East, torture and was one of the few who voted against the Iraq War ten years ago.  That was my primary driver in voting for the man.  Since his election he has doubled down on these failed policies, and added a few deadly, precedent setting wrinkles of his own.   It is why I will be voting for Gary Johnson in November.

So, is this guy still *really* voting for Obama? Or is he minus voting for Obama and plus voting for Romney?  Or could it just be that there is no such thing as voting against anybody and only such a thing as voting for somebody–in this case, Johnson?  What if, mirabile dictu, a whole lot of people were to think like this guy and vote their conscience and not simply be stampeded by the magic word “viable”?  What if people realized that “viability” depends entirely on what we choose as the bosses in the hiring process, and not on what some statistician commands us to believe about the future?  Suppose we voted as though we were in charge of the process and not working for the party or the state?

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  • kenneth

    I don’t think I’ve ever agreed completely with Mark on anything. Some days its all we can do to maintain a forced seething outward civility. I’d sign this little manifesto of his in my own blood, however. This habit of voting primarily as a way to burn the enemy army’s grain has saddled us with some of the worst leadership this country has ever seen, from both parties. It will, if we persist in this, lead us into actual chattel slavery or serfdom. The paranoid classes assume that will happen by some dramatic event in which (usually Obama) is predicted to round up ideological enemies at gunpoint. It will be nothing of the sort. By conditioning us to never vote our own consciences, we will be lured into forging our own shackles, putting them on, and believing that it is a privilege and benefit to wear them.

  • Beadgirl

    Exactly! My conservative brother keeps telling me that by not voting for Romney I’m really voting for Obama. But my progressive liberal friends tell me that by not voting for Obama I’m really voting for Romney. So by not voting for either candidate I am in fact voting for both . . . but then my votes cancel each other out . . . I’m so confused.

  • Michael F.

    I think the reasoning is as follows, Mark:

    For a person like you, who understands that a vote for Obama is unthinkable, but vote for Romney is (thinkable) then a vote for a third party candidate actually accrues to the benefit of Obama. Of course, if the reverse is true (a person who would never vote for Romney), then a vote for a third party candidate accrues to the benefit of Romney.

    • Michael F.

      Let me try that again after typing too fast:

      For a person like you, who understands that a vote for Obama is unthinkable, but a vote for Romney is thinkable, then a vote for a third party candidate actually accrues to the benefit of Obama. Of course, if the reverse is true (a person who considers a vote for Obama thinkable but a vote for Romney unthinkable), then a vote for a third party candidate accrues to the benefit of Romney.

      • RFlaum

        You’re forgetting something important: Mark Shea lives in Washington state. There is no realistic possibility that Romney will carry Washington, so Mark’s vote won’t accrue to the benefit of either candidate, no matter how he votes (well, I suppose the size of the popular vote majority matters a bit politically, but that’s minor).

        • Michael F.

          RFlaum: I agree with you. I’ve made exactly this point on other posts. If a person lives in a “bluer than blue” star or a “redder than red” state, then it is less important to vote for Romney. In fact, one could argue that it might be a very good (and safe) way to register a protest vote without actually helping Obama. Personally, I’m strongly considering doing that because I live in a bluer than blue state.

          • jolly

            Ah, but Mark’s opinion, being published on a blog, might affect the way others vote, including those in the all important “swing” states.
            I am fairly certain if they thought about it, most of the critics of Mark not voting for Romney, really don’t care about Mark’s actual vote- They care about the influence he may have on others.

            • Michael F.

              I think that’s a fair point, jolly. Although, I suspect Mark would argue that the influence he will have on those in battleground states is minimal in that scenario. But, still, point taken.

      • Kristen inDallas

        Have you been following Mark’s posts at all? You logic only works if you assume that a person “like Mark” would find voting for Romney “thinkable.” I haven’t gotten that impression. What would you say to someone who finds voting for either major candidate “UNthinkable” Don’t dismiss people when they tell you they aren’t willing to vote for a candidate who supports a grave moral evil. If someone is thoroughly committed to voting third party (especially if they are still deciding on “which” party, it’s a pretty safe bet they find Romney and Obama votes UNthinkable. It is extremely uncharitable to the human spirit, to free will, to the democratic process, to go on building arguments about “effective votes” for some party that wasn’t voted for based on your own preconcieved notions of who we *might* have chosen if we had to choose between the two. Guess what, we don’t HAVE to choose between the two, and if someone tells you they are voting third party, you have no right invent some other “2nd choice” for them to fit your own warped sense of party warfare. About 34% of likely voters are neither Republican nor democrat. Whether they’re catholic or pro-life, or pro-environment or pro-amnesty, they all have wildly different reasons for they way they cast their vote that have ABOSOLUTELY noting to do with political affiliation. I was a big Nader fan back in my day, to assume that I would have voted for that political crony Gore just because he’s on the same side of your imaginary fence is ludicrous. For independent voters, issues and principles are far more important that the arbitrary left right designation. (Keep in mind left and right mean nothing if you don’t take into account what dirrection you’re facing.)

        • ivan_the_mad

          “I was a big Nader fan back in my day, to assume that I would have voted for that political crony Gore just because he’s on the same side of your imaginary fence is ludicrous.” Awesome quote there.

          • Michael F.

            I think you’re missing the point. If a person possibly *would have voted* for Romney had they not voted for the 3rd party candidate, then the gain is for Obama. If a person is that principled and idealistic that they absolutely would not vote for anyone else, then that’s a different – but I think relatively rare – case.

            In the case at hand – Mark Shea – he has already admitted that he’s considered voting for Romney. He’s also made clear that he would never vote for Obama. So, if he votes 3rd party, his vote (and all votes like his – i.e. people who would grudgingly choose Romney if not for their 3rd party candidate) accrues to the benefit of Obama. I think this is pretty straight-forward, really.

            • ivan_the_mad

              But what about the people who would have voted for Romney if they hadn’t voted for Obama? I mean, if Obama wasn’t in the race, and their only choice was Romney, they’d vote for Romney, right? Therefore every vote that’s not for Romney hurts Romney.

              Yeah, your reasoning is that stupid.

              • Michael F.

                Or, at least your silly characterization of my reasoning is stupid. LOL

                • ivan_the_mad

                  “If a person possibly *would have voted* for Romney had they not voted for the 3rd party candidate, then the gain is for Obama.”

                  Really? Your reasoning isn’t “if they hadn’t voted for this candidate, they would have then voted for that candidate, and another candidate then benefits”? I guess you don’t even know what you wrote LOL

                  • Michael F.

                    When you put quotation marks around a series of words and attribute them to a person , it means that they are a verbatim quote. I never wrote the words you attributed to me. So try using my actual words rather than putting your words into my mouth, ivan.

                    Or better yet, don’t. I’m sorry, but I don’t have the time or patience for that kind of nonsense.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      “When you put quotation marks around a series of words and attribute them to a person , it means that they are a verbatim quote.”

                      No, that’s not always the case on the Intarwebz. One common example would be scare-quotes. But if that makes you feel better and helps you avoid dealing with your poorly reasoned assertion, go for it.

              • Rosemarie


                That makes no sense.

                • Michael F.

                  LOL Thank you, Rosemarie. If I actually wrote what he attributed to me, I’d just hang it up.

        • Rosemarie


          >>>Have you been following Mark’s posts at all? You logic only works if you assume that a person “like Mark” would find voting for Romney “thinkable.” I haven’t gotten that impression.

          Perhaps Michael F is referring to how Mark toyed with the idea of voting for Romney a while back, due to the HHS mandate. That makes it seem like he did consider it “thinkable” at one point at least, if only because of that special situation.

        • Michael F.

          Kristin writes, “Have you been following Mark’s posts at all? You logic only works if you assume that a person “like Mark” would find voting for Romney “thinkable.” I haven’t gotten that impression.”

          Rosemarie is correct (below). Mark once said he was considering voting for Romney. He’s never said he was considering voting for Obama

          Additionally, he has made it clear that he understands and respects those who say they will vote for Romney while holding their nose (the “sucks less” candidate). And he has made abundantly clear that he can’t fathom anyone voting for Obama.

          • Michael F.

            Actually, Rosemarie’s comment ended up *above* rather than below. Sorry for the confusion.

          • Kristen inDallas

            He may have considered it back before anyone knew much of anything about Romney, but his recent posts (for at least the past month or two) make it pretty clear that he is not considering voting for Romney. Now I’m not going to sit here and try to infer who Mark *might* vote for because, I’m not Mark, I can’t (and shouldn’t) judge his heart or think I know how his head works. I’m going to take at face value what he says about what he believes and what he cares about (because that is the ONLY way any of us can really ever get to know each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.) I’m not saying Mark *would not have* voted for XYZ candidate or that your wrong about your predictions. What I am saying is that is is wrong to make predictions about people’s behavior in hypothetical situations that would allow them only to do something they don’t wish to do.

            I appologize, but I’m going to use an extreme example to illustrate why this is so wrong. It’s like asking someone their thoughts on both rape and murder, you get a very negative reaction to both but a slightly more hostile response when it comes to rape. You then ask the person, if they had to chose between raping or murdering someone they care about, which would they do. If this is a particularly grace-filled person, they may not hit you, but they will tell you quite clearly that they would do neither, and that there is no realistic scenario in which either of those would ever be a possibility. You then draw the conclusion that they’d *probably* murder the person, because you know they hate rape so much. Do see what just happened? You’ve just condemned someone as a potential murderer based on an imaginary scenario and your own judgement of what you think is their character without a scrap of respect for who the person really is and what’s in his heart.

            Similarly, when you imply that Mark’s failure to vote for Romney is *really* a vote for Obama, you’ve just condemned him as an Obama-enabler, without a scrap of respect for the values he actually professes. I’m sorry if I’m coming across as really judgemental on you… I recognize I don’t know what’s in YOUR heart either. But the logic you are pushing here, has the tendency to allow people to treat other people as numbers rather than human beings, and whenever I see that logic creep in, it scares the heck out of me.

            • Michael F.

              You’re reading too much into this and making it too hard, Kristin. I’ve said repeatedly that I believe a Catholic can legitimately vote for a 3rd party candidate, **especially** if they live in a non-battleground state. I’m not judging hearts or making a moral assessment. I’m making an argument from logic and prudence.

              And, imo, if a faithful Catholic lives in a battleground state, it makes more sense to vote for Romney than a 3rd party candidate.

      • Ted Seeber

        What about me, for whom a vote for Romney is as equally unthinkable as a vote for Obama?

        • Michael F.

          If you believe that, I would disagree with your analysis (that each are equally bad from a Catholic point of view). But in terms of voting from a Catholic moral standpoint, I agree that a Catholic can legitimately choose a third party candidate. (I’ve written this previously, but just not on this particular post.)

          • Ted Seeber

            I’ll admit consistent ethic of life by Evangelium Vitae is a bit of a sub genre of Catholicism. But the way I look at it, it’s choosing between the drones attacking the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception vs the National Labor Relations Board- and I don’t want to see either.

          • c matt

            that each are equally bad from a Catholic point of view

            Is that necessarily the right question – are we to compare whether they are equally bad from a Catholic perspective, or just bad? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that O is worse than R from a Catholic perspective (let’s say O violates 5 of 7 non-negotiable Catholic principles, and R violates 2 of 7). Regardless of how much worse O is, a vote for R still violates 2 non-negotiables. Does double effect kick in? You are not under a compulsion to vote (or to vote for O or R).

            • Michael F.

              It is morally permissible to vote for someone who is not perfectly right on all the non-negotiables if the intent is to keep a worse candidate from being elected.

              Here’s a pretty good voter’s guide from ETWN that points out the principle established by JPII:


              Quote: “As Pope John Paul II explains in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), “…when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” Logically, it follows from these words of the Pope that a voter may likewise vote for that candidate who will most likely limit the evils of abortion or any other moral evil at issue.”

              And another from Catholic Answers:


      • Andy

        The flaw is that a vote for Romney is “thinkable”. If i have to “hold my nose” to vote someone that means voting for him/her is not thinkable. In your zeal to promote Romney you assume that all who find Obama problematic will automatically think of voting for Romeny. There is no causal connection between Obama bad Romeny good enough to vote for.

        • Michael F.

          I’ve already addressed that, Andy. I believe it’s clear that it’s morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for a third party candidate or Romney. But not for Obama. My argument about voting for Romney rather than a 3rd party candidate is admittedly a more subjective one that is based more on logical argument than it is on moral imperative.

          • Andy

            I am not sure about voting for Obama being impermissible – as I understand remote cooperation if I vote for a person who has supported what I do not believe is moral, but for whom I find other beliefs moral than I am indeed not culpable of an immoral act. TO vote for a third party candidate that I find less morally objectionable is for me the way to avoid any cooperation with an immoral act. I do not see a vote fora third party as a vote for Obama or a vote for Romney. Unfortunately all voting is subjective because I do not believe that any candidate is speaking the “truth”. Each of them is like a salesperson – saying what the consumer wants to here to close the sale. If we continue to support the less evil candidate we are allowing a victory for evil. To affect change we have to register or dismay with the current crop and vote for another set – perhaps keeping those folks on the ballot for continued growth. Of course this view may be due to my cynical nature about politicians or m belief that we as a people, writ large, must take control.

            • Michael F.

              Perhaps better to say “morally unjustifiable” to vote for Obama. In order to vote for Obama, a Catholic would have to find a morally proportionate reason that offsets his unadulterated support for killing human beings in the womb at any time and for any reason (even to the point of being unwilling to protect infants born *alive* after a botched abortion attempt), his support for gay marriage and his attack on Catholics and other people of faith with his HHS immoral mandate. These issues are black and white, intrinsic evils – non-negotiables.

              Here’s a pretty solid voter’s guide that helps to walk Catholics through the principles:


              I’ve never seen a Catholic provide a logical argument based on Catholic moral principles that would justify voting for Barack Obama.

              • Andy

                As I am not voting for Obama for a wide range of reasons including his record on abortion I am not trying make a case for him. I was merely examining/commenting on the concept of remote cooperation. To you later point I have yet to see a person provide me with proof that Romney will indeed follow any Catholic Moral Principles. His stand on abortion changed only when he was pressed during the primaries. HIs stand on the HHS mandate is exactly the opposite of what he did in Mass. In short with Romney you have a salesperson making his pitch for us to “buy him”; having a salesperson in the Office of PResident to me is highly problematic.

                • Michael F.

                  I agree that Romney isn’t rock solid and has show himself to be less than trustworthy. But I find it highly likely that he will follow through on eliminating the HHS mandate because he and his campaign have repeatedly promised to do so in public. I don’t think he’s that *stupid* to go back on such a repeated and public promise. I also believe it is very reasonable to expect that he will be a significant improvement over Obama on abortion. He’s repeatedly said that he will re-instate the Mexico City Policy which will stop the U.S. from funding and exporting abortion world-wide as we are currently doing under Obama. This is a very important thing.
                  It is also highly likely that his judicial picks will generally be better than Obama’s.

                  And people forget all the rest of the administration that will come along with him. Obama is the most radical pro-abortion president in history. He is also violating Catholics’ religious liberties. Removing him is extremely important.

  • John

    As “the guy” who wrote it, I prefer to vote my conscience. If I was to fall in line with the party, I would have voted for Hillary. I did not. I did vote for Obama in 2008, and will not be voting for him in November, as I believe the greatest threat to this country is the growth of the security state and loss of many civil liberties over the past 11 years.

    As for math, it is a net negative to Obama, a net zero to Romney, and a +1 Johnson. My voice. My vote. The rest is up to you.

    • Ted Seeber

      In 2004 I registered independent. In 2008, I registered Democrat to vote for Kucinich because I couldn’t stand either Obama or Clinton. In 2012, I registered Republican to vote for Rick Santorum because I couldn’t stand Romney.

      What makes anybody think I’m going to change the politicians I can’t stand to vote for between the Primary and the National Election?

  • Ryan

    This is a result of the television culture. The whole election process is rigged up like a reality tv show, and the viewers (the Amurican people) have bought into it hook line and sinker.

  • Michael F.

    Mark, you write, “What if people realized that “viability” depends entirely on what we choose as the bosses in the hiring process, and not on what some statistician commands us to believe about the future? Suppose we voted as though we were in charge of the process and not working for the party or the state?”

    I think it’s better for Catholics to have no allegiance to any political party. But, in reality, the amount of people who are independent-minded enough to follow your advice isn’t significant enough to actually elect a third party at all, let alone a candidate who would be completely solid from a Catholic perspective. Ross Perot was the closest we’ve come to electing a third party candidate and it really wasn’t that close….and Perot had his own problems from a Catholic perspective.

    I think the time to fight for better choices is in between elections and during the primaries. But once we are confronted with the reality in front of us, we should make prudent, realistic choices. I’m no prophet, but I can guarantee you that Gary Johnson (or any other 3rd party candidate) is not going to win this presidential election. He will barely make a blip on the radar, but perhaps enough of a blip to give the election to Obama.

    That’s my thinking anyway.

    • Mark Shea

      Except that the guy voting for him is, in this case, a former Obama guy.

      • Michael F.

        Right. I addressed that, here:

        Above, I’m addressing this issue *on the whole*. It’s extremely unlikely that the amount of possible Obama supporters who vote for Johnson will outnumber the possible Romney supporters. Johnson will naturally draw more from political conservatives than liberals.

        Someone like Johnson is net help to Obama, just as Perot was a net help to Clinton.

        If the 3rd party candidate were someone like Nader, then that would be a net help to Romney because Nader tends to draw liberal voters.

        • Ted Seeber

          From Wikipedia:

          Gary Johnson supports “a woman’s right to choose up until the point of viability”[36] and wants to keep abortion legal.[37] He has been very vocal in his beliefs.[38] He supports legislation banning late-term abortions and mandating parental notification for minors seeking an abortion.[39] Johnson believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned because it “expanded the reach of the Federal government into areas of society never envisioned in the Constitution.” He believes that laws regarding abortion should “be decided by the individual states.”[35]”

          I don’t understand how Johnson is a net help to Obama on abortion.

          • Michael F.

            Yes – I saw that after I posted. I wasn’t able to post again due to work and something odd going on with the server. I was confusing Gary Johnson with Gary Bauer. But:

            1) I still find it unlikely many liberals would vote for him because of his economic positions.

            2) Regardless, every vote in a contested state that goes to Johnson that otherwise would have gone to Romney is a net help to Obama.

            • Ted Seeber

              My point is that I think MOST of the votes Gary Johnson would get- as not just a libertarian but a philosophical libertine- would come from Obama, not Romney.

              • Michael F.

                Refer to point #2 above. If one is trying to limit the evil done (i.e. Obama), then any vote that may have gone to Romney but instead goes to a 3rd party candidate is a net help Obama.

                Personally, I would love it if Ralph Nader joined the election, too. That would siphon off more votes from the most pro-abortion president in history.

                • Ted Seeber

                  “Refer to point #2 above. If one is trying to limit the evil done (i.e. Obama), then any vote that may have gone to Romney but instead goes to a 3rd party candidate is a net help Obama.”

                  Ah, but you see, I don’t see Romney as being able to limit the evil done, just take the evil in a different direction and attack a different group of people. Every President in my lifetime has been worse than the previous one, and I don’t see Romney changing that trend. He’ll be better on pro-life, perhaps, but that just means he’ll be much worse on something else I care about.

                  • Michael F.

                    And what exactly is that thing you’re convinced that he’ll be much worse on that you care about? Is is a non-negotiable moral issue like euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning, gay marriage?

      • John

        I had said this to you previously regarding the forming of coalitions. Agreement can be found on many issues. The issue of illegal war, drones, and killing of American citizens is one that is shared by both true conservatives, some on the left.

        Rmoney is not the answer you may think he is.

        I’m fairly certain that non of us is ever going to find “the perfect presidential candidate”. But, amuse me for a moment. Let’s say Gary Johnson gets 100,000 votes. 200,000. What does that mean? What is the message that is delivered?

        The bucket doesn’t fill without the first drop. Allow me to open the spigot.

        • Michael F.

          For me, the “message” delivered is less important than trying to keep the most radically pro-abortion president in U.S. history – a president who is becoming increasingly aggressive in his attacks against the Catholic Church. He needs to be replaced, imo. I worry deeply about what he will do when he no longer has to worry about re-election. He already admitted to the Russian ambassador (when he didn’t know that he was being recorded) that he will do things after the election that he can’t do right now – I think that applies to many other areas beyond foreign policy as well.

          • Michael F.


            For me, the “message” delivered is less important than trying to keep *out* the most radically pro-abortion president in U.S. history – a president who is becoming increasingly aggressive in his attacks against the Catholic Church.

            • John

              I’m not sure I buy that “the most radically pro-abortion president in U.S. history”, as I haven’t seen the facts to support that. I see him more as a maintainer in that regards, as he was on foreign policy. The issue with the Catholic Church/Institutions is different, and that will be handled in the courts, on how Catholic Hospitals/Universities are viewed legally.

              • Michael F.

                Here are some of the reasons I refer to Obama as the most radically pro-abortion president in U.S. history. Usually, I call such a person “pro-abortion rights”. But in Obama’s case, I believe it is fair to call him “pro-abortion.”

                [Note: I tried to post this comment twice with all the supporting links, but blogger kicked it out as being “too spammy.” I can provide all the links, if necessary.]

                First, one of Obama’s first acts was to rescind the Mexico City Policy and now the United States promotes and funds abortion *world-wide*.

                Second, Obama opposed a law that would have protected unborn children whose only crime was that they happened to be the “wrong” gender (gender-selection abortion very disproportionately singles out girls, btw).

                Third, Obama opposed a law that would protect the lives of children who were *born alive* after a botched abortion attempt.

                Fourth, he arguably has given the most support to and has the closest ties with the nation’s largest abortion chain: Planned Parenthood. The president of Planned Parenthood is even out personally campaigning for him.

                Fifth is his immoral HHS mandate that forces Catholics (and others) to violate their faith and consciences by requiring them to pay for coverage for abortifacient drugs. The “exception” given by his administration is narrower than the accepted one given by even prior Democrats (hence the lawsuits filed by virtually all Catholic dioceses in the U.S. against his administration).

                So, yes, I believe that Obama is the most pro-abortion president in U.S. history and I think the facts support that characterization.

          • Ted Seeber

            At most, Obama will only kill 4 million more unborn babies. I don’t see how that is more important than where my soul will spend eternity.

    • Yeah, I’m not at all sure that GJ isn’t pulling more VIABLE votes from Obama than from Romney. Romney lost any chance of getting the Ron Paul crowd to vote for him by treating Paul supporters like absolute crap at the RNC in Tampa.

      Repeat: Romney has already lost most of the votes of Ron Paul supporters. The presence or absence of GJ in the race won’t affect that.

    • Richard Johnson

      “I think the time to fight for better choices is in between elections and during the primaries.”

      Tell that to the evangelicals who stayed at home (or did not vote for the top of ticket) in 1996.

  • Peggy R

    I think only active dues-paying GOPers and active dues-paying Dems have a “duty” to vote for their party’s candidate. And if they can’t in good conscience time and again, perhaps they should leave the party. The rest of us inactive folks–most of whom have to declare a party for state primaries–have no “duty” to a party and are quite free to vote our conscience as a general matter. We owe no loyalty to any party. We need to vote for the best person available that our conscience allows.

    That said, the math is that a third party vote does harm the major party candidates from whom the vote is perceived as being taken. That’s not about harm to the party or the candidate, but it’s about getting the best candidate in office and not helping the worse candidate to victory for the sake of the nation or one’s state, etc.

    Mark, if you’re not a dues-paying active member of the GOP, you have no duty to Romney or the GOP, but you have a duty to the nation and your conscience.

    • What GOP or Dem party actually collects party dues?

      • Blog Goliard

        Local party committees often do.

        • I’ve never actually encountered that so how many states is often because right now this just reads like fantasyland to me. A quick google search identifies a smattering of county parties doing it. We’ve got a bit over 3000 counties and tens of thousands of municipalities. The search results would look different if the practice were widespread.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “the math is that a third party vote does harm the major party candidates from whom the vote is perceived as being taken” Because perception trumps reality, so we can make categorical statements from a perception.

      The math is that a vote for a third-party candidate doesn’t harm any major candidate because the election is not a zero-sum game between Obama and Romney.

      • Peggy R

        Yes, the size of the pie can change by getting more or fewer voters to the polls. But once one assumes a fixed number of voters among candidates A, B, or C (3rd party), a vote for C is one vote not for A or B. The percentages and allocation of votes among candidates can change. And yes, as we’re considering millions of voters, rather than 10s or 100s, an individual vote doesn’t change the allocation much, if at all. We’re talking about moving thousands or tens of thousands of votes to affect an allocation among candidates.

  • Susan D.

    As things stand, both the Republican and Democratic parties are running morally bankrupt candidates for office. I’m going to vote third party. I wish more people would. It’s not a “wasted” vote; it’s a message to the powers that be in our moribund two-party system that the status quo is no longer acceptable. It’s the only way to voted AGAINST both of them.

  • Susan D.

    Aggh. “Vote” not “voted” in my last sentence.

  • Rob

    Ha, funny. Just last night, I told my friend on Facebook:

    And the algebra becomes somewhat complex: if I vote for Z, then I am taking a vote away from X and really voting for Y, according to A. But according to B, if I vote for Z, then I am really taking a vote away from Y and in effect voting for X. Hmmm. Maybe a vote for Z is really a vote for Z.

  • Blog Goliard

    Hmm…your server seems to be melting…and for some reason Facebook is warning me that I’m a spammer and not letting me reply to you there either. Well, let’s try the comboxes again…

    Anyhow, I think people end up talking past each other here because many of the folks advocating a vote for Romney have begged the question. They presume it has already been established that, in the big picture, the overriding priority in the Presidential election is to get Obama out; and that this likewise should be the overriding consideration for each voter individually.

    Given those premises, then of course voting for Romney is the only thing that makes sense…and I accept them just enough myself that I’m far more likely than not to vote Romney/Ryan.

    But–all my quibbling aside–you’re quite right to keep questioning those premises, Mark. They don’t necessarily hold for everyone…or even for every Catholic…or even for every politically conservative Catholic…or even for every politically conservative Catholic in a swing state who loathes Obama and genuinely fears four more years.

  • Michael F.
  • James Isabella

    One thing that never gets talked about in these discussions is: What do you expect a third party president to actually be able to do? I mean, really consider the limitations that such a person would have coming into office.

    With no support from any other party colleagues in congress, a Third Party president would basically be dead in the water and voted out in 4 years. Both parties would essentially be his enemy.

    So, does voting your conscience mean casing a vote for someone who has essentially no chance of being elected, and even if they were elected, couldn’t get anything done even if they had the best intentions?

    • Mark Shea

      I expect a candidate who refuses to grave evil to not do grave evil. I expect a candidate who proudly pledges to do grave evil to the cheers of his supporters to do grave evil.

      • Ted Seeber

        “I expect a candidate who refuses to grave evil to not do grave evil.”

        I wish I could.

        • Given a choice between a candidate who at least *says* he would refuse to do evil and one who has already come out and said he would do it, which would you choose?

          Myself, I’m not voting in this election, because there isn’t a single candidate who hasn’t promised to do something I consider evil. I’d rather not be tainted by having voted for any of them.

          Besides, as I’ve said on my own blog, I don’t think voting changes anything. The oligarchs will do what they want to do, no matter how we vote. We saw that, for example, with the bailouts which were forced through despite widespread objection from the masses. Another example is the way Obama betrayed all of his campaign promises re our involvement in the Middle East and the loss of our civil liberties here at home. Need I go on?

          • Ted Seeber

            “Given a choice between a candidate who at least *says* he would refuse to do evil and one who has already come out and said he would do it, which would you choose?”

            Since I can’t trust a word that comes out of any politician’s mouth, that is no help in deciding.

      • In a nation whose default position is not doing grave evil, this actually would work. But we don’t live in that nation, do we? In a nation where every tick of the clock results in a number of dead unborn, action is preferable to stasis and that, as much as anything else, is the source of the flocking instinct to coalesce into a major party to stop it.

  • I guess I wonder about this one way or another. It may be that a vote for a third party is just that, a vote for a third party. Maybe it’s something else in difference circumstances. After all, I’ve never heard anyone say that those who voted for Ross Perot did anything other than help Bill Clinton in 1992 (to a lesser extent in 1996). I’m sure that some voted for him who may have voted for Clinton. But I think the assumption is, if you wouldn’t have voted either party anyway, it makes no difference. If, however, you tend to, or usually, vote for a particular party, then deliberately abandon that particular party’s candidate in a given year to vote for someone else, then it probably went toward helping the other candidate. I guess it’s based on how one might vote to begin with.

    • Ted Seeber

      In that case I should hold my nose and vote for Virgil Goode- as I have voted either Reform or Constitution since the days of Perot.

  • SecretAgentMan

    Where does someone who continually chooses the lesser of two evils end up?

  • Oh, and remember, according to the Bishops, it’s acceptable to vote for a candidate if the greater good or the least evil might be accomplished, so those voting for one party or the other may well be voting their conscience. That’s important to remember as well.

  • Here’s the problem:

    We have only one more viable political party than Communist China. Remember that “oppressive” and “tyrannical” country we revolted against? In the 2010 election, there were 306 seats in the House of Commons that went to the Conservative Party, 258 to the Labour Party (sic), 57 to the Liberal Democrat Party, 8 to the Democratic Unionist Party, 6 to The Scottish National Party, 5 to Sinn Fein, and 6 other parties also claimed seats in the House of Commons.

    The American House of Representatives after the 2010 election: 242 Republican Seats, 193 Democrat Seats, NO other parties represented. After the 2010 Senate race: 58 Democrats, 40 Republicans and only TWO “independents.”

    • Blog Goliard

      Meh. 57 varieties of the same thing. The Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru, the Greens, and the Speaker (who together won all 632 of the seats contested throughout Great Britain at the last General Election) are all united against the majority of the British people on various and sundry fundamental issues…most prominent among them being Europe. And they are all united against orthodox Christians on many social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.).

      (I’m setting aside the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland…that’s a whole ‘nother Byzantine kettle of fish.)

  • Andy

    To engender change one has to become the change that is wanted (bad paraphrase of Gandhi). However, if we want change voting for the same old crap does not bring change. I see no reason to vote for Romney – his prime worry is money and then making money and then his friends making money., then having the worker bees thankful to the monied for a job Obama seems to be about growing a system that makes folks beholden to the federal government, while he and his friends create a secular world. Neither is acceptable.
    To send a message of disgust we as the voting public must move away from the tribes that presently run Washington and ruin the country and vote for a new breed – perhaps if there were no major parties in control, but rather a bunch small groups having to cooperate we might see a different government and country. Just saying we bitch about what or whois running and then vote for them – talk about biting yourself in the ass. For me a third party is preferable to what is offered by either party.

  • Melanie

    I think it’s a no-brainer to vote your conscience. It’s kinda funny that this is controversial idea.

    Whatever the case, Alan Keyes made some good points recently on why a vote for *either* Romney or Obama is really a vote for the same policies … and why Romney might be even more dangerous in office.

  • Michael F.

    I think there’s something to be learned from the election of Lincoln, too. He was far from the best candidate in terms of opposition to slavery. He had some pretty downright ugly ideas and made some highly problematic statements, from a Catholic moral perspective. But the more “pure” alternative just wasn’t viable. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough people who supported the purer candidate in order to get him elected. Just as fortunately, there weren’t enough people who supported the purer candidate and refused to support Lincoln to keep Lincoln from winning.

  • Ray Rechtin

    I won’t waste words trying to convince the unconvinceable that splitting the vote either way helps one candidate over the other. No words will help you.
    The real problem is that everyone is looking at the wrong office. Does anyone one remember Tip O’Neal? As Speaker of the House he was the second most powerful man in Washington. Democratic and Republican Presidents had to work with him. He was too powerful to work against. The Office of the President is termed limited. At present Congressmen have no term limits, meaning a powerful Speaker could potentially be around longer than a President and be more effective on domestic policies. If you really want to effect change through a third party, start with third party candidates for Congress. A third party does not even have to have a majority to be effective, just control enough seats to make both parties deal with this party to get their agendas through. The same is true for the Senate, where judges and the Presidents Cabinet are confirmed. Once this party is well enough established in Congress, it can then put a viable Presidential candidate on the Ballot. Not before. Voting for a third party Presidential candidate before that is truly a wasted vote and dangerous as it may help elect a Bill Clinton or re-elect a Barack Obama. Look at history, not math.

    • Congress? Try municipal elections, electing young candidates on a Catholic platform that can gain a majority. Move them up to county and state reps, then send them to Congress with enough of a party infrastructure to make them viable presidential candidates. You can start that process in January 2013. Good luck.

  • ChrisKABA

    Well, Mark, the calculus isn’t really calculus at all.

    It’s “Orwellian Addition”.

    For example:

    “1 Obama + 1 Romney + 1 Doomed Quixotic Candidate = 2 .”

    Very simple, and very subjective, see?

    • ivan_the_mad

      I see a mistake in your Orwellian Addition, It’s:
      “1 Obama + 1 Romney + 1 Doomed Quixotic Candidate = 2 Obama 1 Romney”

      Sad thing is, folks (Romney supporters) will read this and say, well yeah!

  • Elaine S.

    “If you really want to effect change through a third party, start with third party candidates for Congress”
    Couldn’t agree more. Your point about the power that a House Speaker or Senate Majority Leader has is well taken. I’d go one step further to say that a truly viable third party should start at the local and state level and field candidates for mayor, state legislature, etc. If a third party ever gets enough of a foothold to elect a governor, that would also open the door to a viable presidential run.

  • Will

    Russell Baker once wrote a hilarious column on the “a vote for C is a vote for B” logic, as a Goodell supporter told that “a vote for Goodell is a vote for Buckley” struggles to make an arrangement with a Buckley supporter who is instructed that “a vote for Buckley is a vote for Agnew”.
    Of course, in New York in 1965, we were told that “a vote for Buckley is a vote for Beame” AND
    a vote for Buckley is a vote for Lindsay”.

    Now, this election, in New York any vote not for the Democrap is “wasted”. So I guess I am under some sort of obligation to vote for Obama, in order to make it even more lopsided by some miniscule degree.
    To votaries of the Sacred Two-Party System: Do the words “self-fulfilling prophecy” mean anything to you? I guess I have to vote for the Whigs instead of that weird “Republican” splinter group. And in Britain, they have to vote for the Liberals instead of that non-viable “Labor Party”

  • Ray Rechtin

    Help me out here Mark. I do not understand. I believe we agree that abortion is always and everywhere an intrinsic evil. Correct? I think we both understand that war is not the same as abortion. Some wars are just, for example Afghanistan because we were attacked numerous times with serious and lasting harm inflicted, other means were ineffective and success, while not certain was probable. (We can argue whether success is still certain but that decision was made at the time of deciding to go to war.) Some wars are unjust, as possibly Iraq, because we were not attacked or under any of the other conditions that “make” a war a “just war” (Iraq was not a serious threat to us as an aggressor nation, etc.).
    Are we still together? After all, we agree that there is no “Just Abortion Theory” in Catholic teaching or understanding do we not? And this is where we might part company, Iran is, and has been for over 30 years a rogue nation, showing a disregard for not only the international community and international law, but also its own people.
    The U.S. has gone on one ill-advised and costly fishing expedition for weapons of mass destruction so, to make it perfectly clear, I am not advocating for a second such adventure. But what do you do with a nation that has repeatedly called for Israel to be wiped of the face of the earth, has funded and continues to fund terrorist organizations and has begun a highly advanced nuclear program ignoring all attempts by many nations to curb the program.
    Nuclear weapons are not like swords or bullets or even conventional bombs that can be aimed at a military target. They are by their nature indiscriminate. Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people will be killed and many more maimed for life with the successful detonation of just one such device.
    Do you wait for such an attack? Or do you exhaust every other option and if those fail, then mount a pre-emptive, non-nuclear strike aimed at disabling their nuclear capability? You want to talk about trying to figure out the calculus. For me, I am glad I am not the one making that decision. I am not comfortable with either scenario.
    The use of nuclear weapons in war might be compared to abortion. Both are always and everywhere evil. Both should be prevented with every means possible.

  • Elaine S.

    “I guess I have to vote for the Whigs instead of that weird “Republican” splinter group.”
    The situation in 1860 was far different from today in several respects. For one thing, there were actually FOUR major candidates for president that year — Abe Lincoln (Republican), Stephen Douglas (“regular” Democrat), John Breckinridge (splinter, pro-Southern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Union Party, which dodged the slavery/civil war issue altogether). With that many candidates in the mix it was possible for a candidate to win with a plurality rather than a majority of the vote, and that is exactly how Lincoln won. Moreover, the Republicans were no longer a tiny “splinter group” at that point; it had already run one presidential candidate (John C. Fremont) and had pretty much absorbed what was left of the Whig Party and the former American (“Know Nothing”) Party, along with some Northern Democrats opposed to Douglas’ pro-choice policy on slavery (as expressed in the Kansas-Nebraska Act). So they had a fairly strong base going into the 1860 elections — stronger than any contemporary third party currently has.

    • Will

      “the Republicans were no longer a tiny “splinter group” at that point;”

      Exactly, AT THAT POINT. They did not just spring out of the heavens in 1860. People who wanted a “third party” had defied the Sacred Two Party System, and supported that “non-viable” nut Fremont. By the logic we are hearing, the Sacred Two Party System should still be Democrats vs. Whigs, since it is impossible and inconceivable for a “third party” to ever change The System.

      • Elaine S.

        “People who wanted a ‘third party’ had defied the Sacred Two Party System”
        More precisely, what they did was find a replacement for one of the formerly Sacred Two Parties (the Whigs) which had fallen apart due to internal divisions over slavery and immigration (which was just starting to crank up in the wake of the Irish famine and failed revolutions in Germany and elsewhere). If the Republicans hadn’t come along and made people who had formerly been Whigs or Know Nothings or Anti-Nebraska Democrats get their act together, there would effectively have been only ONE party, the Democrats.

  • Rose Mary

    I was reading the Bible the other day, and this verse jumped out at me as jaw-droppingly prophetic:
    “”Be careful, therefore, to do as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” -Deuteronomy 5:32

  • c matt

    Trying to figure out the calculus here

    It’s part of the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. You will also need a programmable calculator with the ability to solve multiple linear equations using matrices.

  • c matt

    Or, if you want to look at it from a psychoanalytical perspective,

    “sometimes, a vote for Z is just a vote for Z.”

  • R.C.

    I don’t think it’s all that hard, actually:

    First, I take it that we all expect either Obama or Romney to win? Not Johnson, not some write-in?

    Assuming we’re all in agreement about THAT…,

    If you are in a state where the race is very tight — where Obama might plausibly get that state’s electoral votes if not enough people vote for Romney — then you are truly in a situation where your vote could tip the balance.

    In that case, you must hold your nose and vote for Romney, and plan on lobbying very hard for a reduction in the evils on the conservative side of the aisle after-the-fact.

    But what if you’re in a state where Obama will obviously win; or, conversely, where Romney will obviously win? Where your vote is not at all likely to change where your state’s electoral votes go?

    WELL! That is a case where your vote really ought to reflect your conscience: It should send a message to the Republicans that they lost your vote for XYZ reason…a reason which should be made obvious by whom you chose to vote for instead. A vote for Obama over Romney would tell them they weren’t liberal enough…not the message a faithful Catholic should be sending. A vote for Johnson would tell them they weren’t libertarian enough; which might come out as “not sufficiently socially liberal and not sufficiently economically conservative.” Hmm. That might not be the message you meant to send, either. Skipping the presidential slot on the ballot will be hard for them to interpret. A write-in for Ron Paul might be just the thing. But as you like.

    In short: You’re responsible if, in a battleground state, you don’t vote Romney with the intent of defeating Obama, and Obama wins by some tiny margin, and the Church enters a new round of persecution as a result. There aren’t many Catholic businesses and organizations that can afford pay millions of dollars of fines per year for not compensating their employees with contraceptives and abortifacients. The HHS mandate thus constitutes a sort of “religious test for owning a business or operating a charity or healthcare organization”: Catholics Need Not Apply. Do you WANT to see every Catholic hospital, charity, and business sold to a non-Catholic owner in a fire sale because the Catholics can’t in good conscience continue to operate it?

    The stakes are high. Make your point of conscience in the non-battleground states, so that the GOP doesn’t feel too comfy if it should happen to win. But in the battleground states, please, hold your nose and vote against the worse of two evils.