Rick Perry, Waterboarding and Prudential Judgment

Rick Perry, Waterboarding and Prudential Judgment November 14, 2011

In the most recent Republican debate, Rick Perry made an impassioned defense of waterboarding.  According to the LA Times report:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched the most forceful defense of waterboarding, saying that all means possible should be used to extract information from those who would aim to hurt U.S. service personnel.

“For us not to have the ability to extract information to save our young people’s lives is a travesty. This is war. And I am for [using any tactics] … and I will be for it until I die. “

This can be criticized from many perspectives:  his defense of the intrinsic evil of torture, his appeal to ultilitarian ethics, etc.   But for me this raises the following hypothetical question:  suppose Perry were to get the Republican nomination?  We would then be confronted by two candidates who have firmly staked out positions contrary to Catholic teaching on the dignity of human life:  Obama and his support for abortion, and Perry and his support for torture (and to a lesser extent, the death penalty).   Neither one could be awarded the mantle of the “pro-life” candidate.  Whom should Catholics vote for?

I will presume, following the reasoning of the US Bishops, that no serious Catholic would vote for either in support of their positions on abortion/torture.  But, as they made clear, one can, for sufficiently grave reasons, vote for either of them despite their positions on these issues.   A Catholic might respond by declining to vote for either major party candidate.  Alternatively, the Catholic voter will have to find some grounds for deciding between the two.  Any such decision will require an evaluation of the alternatives, more than a little compromise, and careful discernment.  In other words, prudential judgment.    I think that this would be a good thing for the Church, individually and collectively.

Of course, this may be a foolish dream.  I am sure that the “Five Non-negotiables” will be trotted out—a handful of positions that conveniently omit any Catholic teaching that Republican candidates might be opposed to—and again declared “the” Catholic scorecard for the election.    But by his firm stands contrary to Catholic teaching, Perry is making this approach less and less tenable.

 

 

"Joe,thanks for this detailed comment. I appreciate your sentiments about ensoulment though the very uncertainty ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."
"David, I likewise applaud your series on how you came to believe in a consistent ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."
"Just so you know: Henry Karlson no longer blogs with us, and I doubt he ..."

A Christian Interpretation of the Mahāvākyas
"Brian,thank you for sharing this really sad story. Your kids have experienced what I kept ..."

Four Episodes from a Consistent Life ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • The “Five Non-negotiables” approach was never tenable: it confuses means and ends.

    • Moreover, it’s not only a candidate’s position on an issue that matters, but also (and more importantly, IMO) what he or she plans to do and can do about it.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      True, but by narrowly framing the issues, it made it appear (at least to certain kinds of Catholics) that decisive distinctions could be drawn. Perry makes even this misleading approach untenable, which is my point.

  • The “5 non-negotiables” was made up by a Republicath outfit. It has no standing.

    • The Pachyderminator

      Catholic Answers is not a Republican outfit. As for “standing,” I’m not sure what that means. Certainly the “five non-negotiables” formula did not come from a Magisterial document. As far as I know, no one ever claimed as much.

      • Kurt

        It came from focus-groups testing, financed by Republican political operatives.

      • Catholic Answers is most certainly a Republican outfit. As far back as 2006, I called them about why torture was not listed as one of the non-negotiables. Silence.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Well, the director of lobbying for the CT Catholic Conference came to my parish to give a talk for the religious ed program in October, 2010. He brought along copies of the “Five Non-negotiables” pamphlet to pass out, and implied strongly that this was an authoritative guide for determining who to vote for. This is a kind of “soft” imprimuratur that carries a lot of weight. So yes, it unfortunately had a kind of quasi-official standing.

    • Oh dear, what a horrible thought! I thought most bishops laid down a policy that the USCCB document and ONLY the USCCB dcoument was given official status and allowed to be circulated.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I think if challenged he would have said something nuanced, but the message conveyed by his actions in passing out this pamphlet seemed dreadfully clear.

  • The Pachyderminator

    Fair enough, I guess. And that would be unfortunate even if the list was less problematic than it is. The omission of the death penalty is defensible, but the inclusion of homosexual marriage while excluding torture is curious.

  • Rodak

    “A Catholic might respond by declining to vote for either major party candidate. Alternatively, the Catholic voter will have to find some grounds for deciding between the two. Any such decision will require an evaluation of the alternatives, more than a little compromise, and careful discernment. In other words, prudential judgment.”

    I don’t understand how this makes the Catholic citizen’s responsibility in choosing his candidates different from anybody else’s.
    If the five “non-negotiables” are, in reality, negotiable, then there is nothing special about the Catholic decision-making process. You hold your nose and cast your vote–like the rest of us.

  • phosphorious

    Forgive me if this is a thread-jack, but I object to the characterization of Perry’s position as “utilitarian,” as if he is sacrificing a principle for some expediency. He says:

    “For us not to have the ability to extract information to save our young people’s lives is a travesty.”

    He has his principle. . . in fact, he can be described as “pro-life!” Torture os good because it preserves our young people’s lives.

    What this has to do with your broader point, I think, is that the source of the problem you allude to is that one side of the argument (the GOP) always claims the moral high ground. They are always acting “from principle.”

    But almost anything can be described as in accordance with some principle.

    This is why vote democratic, abortion and all: the don;t clothe the ugly business of politics in religious garb.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I described it as utilitarian because he accepted torture because of its utility: it (purportedly) saves the lives of young Americans. Perhaps this is is a mischaracterization of utilitarian thinking. But yes, he is trying to claim a sort of moral high ground here.

  • The Pachyderminator

    If the five “non-negotiables” are, in reality, negotiable, then there is nothing special about the Catholic decision-making process. You hold your nose and cast your vote–like the rest of us.

    They’re only negotiable if no viable candidate who is on the right side of all of them is available. That’s something very substantial.

    By the way, a possible reason for the absence of torture in the pamphlet could be that there’s no clear and accepted definition, certainly no magisterial one, of what exactly is and is not torture. Please don’t respond by repeating the comment of Justice Stewart on pornography (“I know it when I see it”).

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I don’t know, Vatican II gave a pretty good definition: “whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself.” One can then discuss whether a particular technique falls within this, but it seems to me that this provides a pretty good framework for discussing torture.

    • Rodak

      @the pachyderminator–

      Uh…”only if” is the starting point of any negotiation. It is clear that there are no “non-negotialbles” and no Catholic Exceptionalism in politics. It’s a dirty game. And if you play it, you come up muddy.

      As for torture, it is clear that people have not known it when they’ve seen it. Torture is something that one knows when it is done to them. Several waterboarding scoffers submitted to it at the onset of the controversy. Each of them had his mind changed on the issue, I believe.

  • “Any such decision will require an evaluation of the alternatives, more than a little compromise, and careful discernment. In other words, prudential judgment.”

    How does ‘prudential judgment’ apply here? If one rightly concludes that both candidates have grave morally unacceptable positions then, ‘prudential judgment’ has been successfully applied to the limit. It seems to me that to affirm one or another moral failures is to abandon prudential judgment and accept a faustian bargain.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      One man’s faustian bargain is another’s prudential judgment!

      I don’t think that prudential judgment comes to an end when one reaches the sad conclusion that all candidates have taken morally unacceptable positions. I think Kyle makes a pertinent point about plans and means. Let me give a somewhat silly example. Suppose someone was running for town council in my town, which has the city manager form of government. Imagine someone running for council who makes it clear he is unreservedly pro-choice. However, in this elected position, except for the faint possibility of using it as a bully pulpit, the job will not require any decisions involving abortion. Therefore, in reviewing the candidates, determining that this candidates positions on other, relevant issues, is the strongest, then I think it would be legitimate to vote for this candidate despite his position on abortion.

      This example is extreme (and silly) but I hope it makes my point about these kinds of decisions. Such decisions are highly contextual and this is ultimately a grey area where reasonable people may come to different decisions. Thus it is at its heart a matter of prudential judgment.

    • “One man’s faustian bargain is another’s prudential judgment!”

      It seems to me that ‘prudential judgment’ is more than a process of making practical decisions on moral principles. Or to put it another way, we can easily fail; in which case the result is an imprudent ‘prudential judgment’. I understand that the concept doesn’t involve perfection, but it does require in part, a ‘rightful use of reason’, which does limit some of the acceptable outcomes. What we hear most often, in fact, is an atrophied process of selective reasoning (i.e. rationalization).

      I would argue (perhaps you would agreee) that whoever came up with the ‘5 Non-Negotiables’ lacked ‘prudential judgment’ in conveying their message; yet they might contend that they were wise.

  • Thanks to water-boarding we found Bin Laden and had him brought to justice. Freedom doesn’t come free.

    CIA chief: Waterboarding aided bin Laden raid
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42880435/ns/world_news-death_of_bin_laden/t/cia-chief-waterboarding-aided-bin-laden-raid/#.TsKr-PLqdnA

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      We did not bring Bin Laden to justice, which usually denotes arresting someone and bringing him to trial. He was shot down with no opportunity to surrender.

      Freedom may not be free, but the defense of freedom does not allow intrinsically evil acts, such as torture. You may not commit evil to bring about good ends: the ends are forever tainted by your means.

      And many observers and knowledgeable commentators found the CIA’s assertions that waterboarding played a role to be self-serving.

      • What trial was needed? The man was the admitted mastermind behind 3,000 deaths on 9/11 and countless others. Do you not remember this? And the bible warns that there are not only eternal but earthly consequences for those that do evil.

        Romans 13:4

        “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Trial? You know, the rule of law? Not having the executive act as judge and jury has a pretty long and well-established history, including in Jewish religious law in the OT. The evidence of his guilt was overwhelming, but I will not condone his execution simply because of this fact. The guilty deserve a fair trial just as much as the innocent.

  • I want to be clear that I completely agree with your thoughts in the post. Ultimately we can’t be reduced io checklists and boxes in making these decisions. Similarly we can’t fall back on ‘prudential judgments’ that make no attempt at prudence. If we do, we end up with the same partisan and narrow outcomes.

    My hope is that a genuine pursuit of ‘prudential judgment’ should move us (individually and collectively) toward morally superior decisions rather than a bland tolerance of all judgments, including self-serving ones.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Amen!