Legalized Depravity: Obama and McCain thinking evil

Legalized Depravity: Obama and McCain thinking evil August 30, 2008

Ruchira Paul reflects astutely on the answers given by Senators Obama and McCain on the curiously political question of evil (Hat tip: Leiter Reports):

During the interview, (watch the video here or read the transcript here) Warren asked both candidates the following question:

Does evil exist and if it does, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it or do we defeat it?

Obama gave the following nuanced answer:

Evil does exist. I mean, we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil sadly on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who have viciously abused their children and I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely and one of the things that I strongly believe is that, you know, we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God’s task. But we can be soldiers in that process and we can confront it when we see it. Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil. But you know a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.

Here is McCain’s response to the same question:

Defeat it. .. If I’m president of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do that. I will get that done. No one should be allowed to take thousands fo American — innocent American lives. Of course evil must be defeated. My friends, we are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21st century, radical Islamic extremists. Not long ago in Baghdad, Al Qaeda took two young women who were mentally disabled and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn’t evil, you have to tell me what is and we’re going to defeat this evil, and the central battle ground according to David Petraeus is in Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq. And we are winning and we are succeeding and our troops will come home with honor and victory and not in defeat and that’s what’s happening. We have – and we face this threat throughout the world. It’s not just in Iraq. It’s not just in Afghanistan. Our intelligence people tell us Al Qaeda continues to try to establish cells here in the United States of America. My friends, we must face this challenge. We can face this challenge and we must totally defeat it and we’re in a long struggle. But when I’m around the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform, I have no doubt .. none.

How’s that for a contrast in world views? I always worry when McCain begins a sentence with the words “My friends.” They are usually followed by a statement that is either false or dangerous. While Obama recognizes evil outside the borders of the United States, he also acknowledges that our nation is not guilt – free. McCain on the other hand sees evil only outside the US – inside Iraq in particular. He makes no mention of our overcrowded prison system, social inequities, illegal torture of enemy combatants. He expresses no worry about sexism, racism, homophobia within our own society. McCain the Valiant is focused on only one evil – Al Qaeda. And he is going to fight it in Iraq, the unnecessary immoral war he is determined to “win.”

Our upcoming presidential election ought to be about more than just the economy and jobs. It should also be about how we see ourselves as citizens of the world. Obama, despite his youth and inexperience, recognizes that vital aspect of leadership. McCain, on the other hand, appears to believe that following in the errant and belligerent footsteps of Bush-Cheney is the only way to lead America and “defeat” evil.

While I hesitate to say, philosophically, that evil “exists,” there is no question that Obama has the more realistic and compelling view on the topic, even though he likely would not view other moral problems such as abortion as “evil.”  Nevertheless, he locates evil in actions and recognizes that evil cannot be defeated by human agency.  McCain, on the other hand, clumsily reduces the “existence” of evil to a person (Osama  Bin Laden) and to groups of people (al-Quaeda and “radical Islamic extremists”).  This implies for McCain that evil can be defeated by human agency through the elimination of these people, presumably by means of violence.  Such is quite a naive and depersonalized view of the world from the Catholic perspective, but it certainly appeals to those whose public policies hinge strictly upon utilitarianism.

I always like to ask, What does St. Thomas think?  Well, here he is on whether evil is a thing or person:

…we must consider that good properly speaking is something inasmuch as it is desirable, for according to the Philosopher, they have best defined good who say that good is that which all things desire.  But that which is opposed to good is called evil; hence evil must be that which is opposed to the desirable as such.  But it is impossible for this to be something. . . . (De Malo, Q I.1)

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