Soberly Considering Abstention from Voting

Soberly Considering Abstention from Voting July 16, 2012

Voting in any election is, so to speak, a matter of choosing “the lesser of two evils”, or as one Mennonite author put it four years ago, “preferring one fox over another”.  Especially when considering beyond one’s own demographic self-interest to the common good and concern for all the vulnerable, as all Christians should, there are no ideal candidates.  But this year in particular, I find myself faced with the sobering question of whether there is any presidential candidate I can vote for in good conscience.

When I voted for Barack Obama four years ago, I was not so naive as to view him as the harbinger of the new era for humanity that some were predicting.  But perhaps I was naive to think he had enough broad bipartisan appeal to be truly capable of uniting a deeply polarized nation – just as, alas, I had naively thought about George W. Bush eight years prior.  While Obama is far more articulate than his predecessor, he has proven to be no less polarizing.  And, disappontingly, I am generally hard pressed to find very many concrete ways in which his presidency has been a noticeable improvement.

Granted, our polarization is arguably not Obama’s fault (nor perhaps Bush’s, for that matter).  But he has a number of much more disconcerting strikes against him from the perspective of a Catholic citizen with a broad concern for peace, life, and human dignity.  I wish I didn’t have to associate our president with drone warfare, the NDAA authorizing indefinite detentions (which has received startlingly little attention), that infamous HHS mandate (which has been talked to death, but still), chillingly unprecedented citizen assassinations, and the list goes on.  (Ian Ebright at Red Letter Christians handily summarizes my misgivings here.)  It’s hard to think of any presidential virtues – even that of not being Mitt Romney – that could justify turning a blind eye to all that.

And as for Romney, nothing I’ve seen or heard from him gives me any comfort.  Not to be outdone by the obligatory strains of American exceptionalism that have shown up in most of Obama’s speeches, the Romney campaign gives the foreign seo agency policy section of its website the heading, “An American Century”, with every subsection featuring the following quote from Romney:

I am here today to tell you that I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century.  In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world.  In an American Century, American leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

How’s that for Pax Americana.  Moreover, an endorsement from a former defense secretary affirms, beneath a banner proclaiming the “moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in”, that military spending is sacrosanct.  Romney has also stated his willingness to wage a preemptive strike against Iran without congressional approval, which, as this article points out with a nice touch of irony, “would be the first time a sitting president violated the Constitution’s separation of powers and the War Powers Resolution since President Obama did it in Libya.”

With most of my major concerns about Obama being based on foreign policy issues, Romney stands little chance of looking like any sort of improvement.  On domestic matters, the full context of Romeny’s famous gaffe about not being concerned about the very poor doesn’t provide much consolation, since I haven’t seen any indication that he does have any concern for the poor.  Even considering abortion, probably the only major issue on which I am in principled agreement with Romney, it’s doubtful that anything would be done either legislatively or systemically to actually decrease the abortion rate under a Romney administration.  Indeed, even if one were to consider abortion the single qualifying issue, domestic policies reflective of Romney’s disregard for the poor may exacerbate many of the situations that lead to abortion in the first place.  On the other side of the same coin, if one were to take foreign policy as the be-all and end-all, Obama is hardly less scary.

Ironically, it seems the more polarized we become, the more the two major parties resemble each other, to the detriment of both.  My disenchantment with all this was further gelled with a recent letter to The Mennonite calling for an election “boycott” despite rightly objecting to the Mennonite tendency toward withdrawal from public witness.  The letter reads in part:

During the past seven years, Republican and Democrat distinctives have been eclipsed by the unity of the two major parties in their disregard for the rule of law. Examples include the refusal to prosecute Wall Street banksters who stole billions of dollars, the flagrant violation of constitutional protections related to privacy in our communications, the persecution of whistle-blowers and the violent taking of American lives based solely on secret accusations of government officials.

In foreign affairs, the two major parties again stand together in claiming America’s right to roam the earth and do as it pleases. It matters little which political party controls the White House; both pursue war and send killing squads into other countries without Congress casting a vote.  Nations that refuse to fall in line, such as Iraq, Libya, Syria or Iran, are stigmatized relentlessly by deceitful propaganda and are eventually crushed or dismembered.

Not only do followers of Jesus have no stake in the make-believe wrestling matches these two parties stage every four years, we have an obligation to call it what it is: a charade designed to divert our attention from the horrors off-stage. We are becoming a lawless nation. Until that is named, the posturing and showboating at center stage will not change our national direction, no matter how authentically the lead characters play their roles.

What the U.S. political structure asks us to give every four years is the very thing it is forfeiting by its disdain for the rule of law: legitimacy. If we are faithful to our calling, we will refuse to give it. And we will find a way to explain ourselves out loud, in the public square.

No suggestion is given here as to how we can express ourselves publicly without voting, and I’m afraid I don’t have the answer either.  Some (including the author of the 2008 article linked above) would argue that a refusal to vote is a failure in one’s duty to the common good, which is a very valid point.  Not voting is not a good option either.  But that’s just the problem: there are no good options.  I don’t really want to abstain from participation in the electoral process, but under the circumstances I am finding it increasingly difficult to justify validating the violent and life-denying politics of either Obama or Romney, or the parties they represent, with my vote.

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  • jono113

    While neither candidate for President will fulfill all our desires, ask which candidate you would like to be appointing federal judges at all levels, including the Supreme Court, in the next 4 years.

    • Mark Gordon

      Where in the past forty years have we heard that before?

      • jono113

        Do you think persons on lifetime court seats is of no consequence?

        • Mark Gordon

          I think it’s of great consequence. I think it is tragic that Citizens United won’t be overturned for decades, if ever. On the other hand, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, it would merely go back to the states, where a majority of legislatures would vote to keep abortion legal.

    • Jimmy Mac

      When during any of our lifetimes has any presidential candidate met all of our requirements for casting a vote without reservation?

      That’s what I thought.

  • Carl Diederichs

    A Faithful Citizen cannot bail out. Maybe you won’t be effected by a wrong vote but many poor people would be. And the alternative would certainly not stop the drones.

    • Julia Smucker

      Carl, I agree. Believe me, I want to do something and not just bail. But we need a better alternative, because given the ones we’ve got, either vote would be a wrong vote.

      • Carl Diederichs

        We don’t have a better candidate. But we have a choice. The document Fathful Citizenship doesn’t provide for opting out. If Dorothy Day were here today I think she would vote and still continue her prophetic mission to change our country fundamentally. See this issue from the point of view of the poor. You would need to admit, I think, that one candidate does address the needs of the poor and the powerless with a bit more credibility, no?

    • Jimmy Mac

      If you don’t bear the cross, then don’t look for the crown – and don’t complain about the results.

  • Mark Gordon

    Julia, as you know I’m in a similar place and have already decided that I can’t in good conscience vote for either of these characters. As I wrote in last year’s “Catholic Citizenship and ‘The Dorothy Option'”:

    The deeper I drove into the authentic teaching of the Church and its implications for living as both citizen and Christian, the less satisfied I became with limitations of a binary political system defined by Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative. In fact, over time I came to see that the system isn’t binary at all, but unitary, with two distinct but ultimately complimentary and mutually supporting modes of expression. Moreover, I came to the conviction that neither mode is adequate to channel the radical demands imposed upon us by the Gospel. The Democratic and Republican parties are two dead ends in the same blind alley; but the essential problem isn’t the parties themselves at all. At the heart of the issue is what the Servant of God Dorothy Day called “this filthy, rotten system” itself.

    And so, I recommend the “Dorothy Option.” Eschew both parties. Refuse to participate in their rigged game of electoral politics. Refuse to fight their wars. Pack a lifeboat with as many people as you can and row away from the ship of state and the staged battle being waged on its deck. The ship is going down anyway, and it will take all the partisans and courtiers from both parties with it.

    When you choose the lesser of two evils you still get evil. Don’t choose evil.

    • Julia Smucker

      Do you think Dorothy would be offended if I wrote her name on the ballot?

      • Mark Gordon

        Ask her! 🙂

        I plan to write in the name of Wendell Berry.

    • I’m not saying I necessarily agree with this analysis, but I think technically the “lesser evil” theory posits that in something like voting, you can’t “refuse to choose,” because a choice to abstain is equivalent to a vote for the more evil party, given that a vote for the “lesser evil” would at least “cancel out” someone else’s vote for the greater evil. So you wouldn’t, under this analysis, be casting a vote FOR the lesser evil, you’re choosing to cast a vote AGAINST the greater evil.

  • Dorothy also called it the Catholic Worker’s mission to “overthrow the State (nonviolently).” That won’t be done at the ballot box. It will be done by the creation of communities that do not require elections, officers, courts, judges, police, and prisons to sustain themselves, i.e., the entire apparatus of violence and intimidation that keeps people enslaved to this ‘dirty rotten system’.

    If the system wasn’t dirty and rotten, you wouldn’t need violence to hold it together.

  • Melody

    Thanks for your thoughts, Julia. I have also just about decided that I will have to abstain from voting for either presidential candidate; possibly also for congressional candidates. In which case there would hardly be much point in showing up at the polls at all.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Julia, I think a bit more nuance is needed here: are you saying that you are thinking of abstaining from voting for president or not voting at all?

    Your whole discussion is about Romney vs. Obama, but I imagine that there will be many other important issues on the ballot where you live. Here in CT our municipal elections are off-cycle (i.e., in odd years) but we have a senatorial election, all the members of the house, and all the seats in state government (except governor). As some politician put it, all politics is local, and I find that these local elections really matter. Do they take place within the broader context of a system that is flawed (perhaps fatally)? Yes, of course. But they still have an impact and matter in ways large and small.

    • Julia Smucker

      You’re right, my discussion here is limited to the presidential election, but you have a good point: I suppose the least I can do is to become informed enough to vote on local issues.

  • Kurt

    As a person denied the full voting rights other American citizens have, the right to vote seems more precious to me.

    I won’t even attempt to suggest a candidate. Flip a coin for one or the other. Then instead of doing nothing, do more. Go down the Party HQ for the winner of the coin flip and volunteer. Talk to others there. Let everyone know that you are there because of those (few as they may be) virtues you find in that candidate. Be a respectful and patient Christian witness to those issues you are present despite of and not because the candidate holds such positions. Make friends. Be open to them enlightening you and you them. Listen. Make a human connection with other campaign workers. Go door to door with the campaign and hear what other people are saying. Jesus walked among and helped the more terrible sinners, whores, tax collectors and thieves. A bunch of Democrats or Republicans can’t be too much more worse than they were.

  • I am in the habit of writing in names or else just passing on particular offices, particularly the office of President. I will no longer vote for abortion supporters if the office sought is one that might influence abortion policy, so that rules out almost all the Democrats. I won’t vote for warmongers, so that rules out most Republicans–and most Democrats, frankly. Mostly, I just vote for candidates for local offices.

    I keep hearing that the perfect is the enemy of the good. But we’re not talking “good” here; we’re talking evil.

  • Thales

    I think you’re right to think that there is not much difference between the candidates in many areas, but I see one huge difference between the candidates: the HHS mandate. Usually, the outcome of most elections don’t lead to much difference in the culture or direction of the nation, but in my mind at least, this is one time where the candidate will have a difference.

    • In the last presidential election, I wrote in Joe Schriner. This time, I agree with you, Thales. President Obama’s blatant disregard for the religious rights of Catholics (not to mention his war mongering and citizen assassinations) trumps all else. At this moment, I plan to vote for Romney to get Obama out of office.

      • Mark Gordon

        And what you’ll get is a pre-emptive war on Iran, the restoration of the torture regime, forced deportations, and wholesale abandonment of the poor, the sick, and the elderly. If your conscience can live with that, pull the lever. I’m sure there will be Catholic courtiers prepared to help you justify the unjustifiable.

        • Thales


          As opposed to the current policies of pre-emptive war on Libya, the continuation of the drone regime, forced assassinations, and the wholesale abandonment of the unborn and people of religion and conscience?

          Let’s not play the silly gotcha game. Both sides are extremely imperfect and can be (and often deserve to be) caricatured as evil. Now if you think that means a conscientious Catholic voter should just abstain, that’s fine. Some of us think, however, that it’s our duty (and good for the common good) to vote for the least worst option. And since I won’t blame you for future evil policy X instituted by future President Obamney because you didn’t vote to prevent him from getting the office, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t blame me either.

        • Mark Gordon

          No. If you cast an affirmative vote for one or the other, you get a share in what they promise to do. Sorry. In 2000, a Catholic voting for Bush couldn’t know that he would engineer a pre-emptive war against a country that hadn’t attacked or threatened the United States. In 2008, a Catholic voting for Obama couldn’t know that years hence he would promulgate the HHS Mandate. But a Catholic voting for either Romney or Obama knows exactly what is on offer, and therefore shares in the blame. Sleep tight, Thales.

        • Thales


          A Catholic voter “shares in the blame” when he casts his vote for an imperfect candidate, while rejecting the candidate’s immoral positions? Sorry, that’s simply incorrect.

          Now I respect and understand if you think that your conscience dictates that you have to abstain. But your claim that a voter “shares in the blame” for a candidate’s position that the voter opposes and doesn’t intend is incorrect.

          [US Bishops, Forming Consciences, #36
          36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.]

          • Mark Gordon

            Yes, and a big problem with so-called “conservatives” is that many will vote for Mitt Romney precisely because of his positions on war, torture, immigration, and the imposition of a laissez-faire capitalist regime that deepens the ongoing disenfranchisement of the poor and middle class. And many of those same “conservatives” will be right back here and elsewhere explaining how those policies fall under the aegis of “prudential judgment.”

        • Thales

          Um, okay, but I’m not one of them. So I don’t know why you’re bringing that up, and it’s non-responsive to the position you staked out and which I challenged you on.

  • Jordan

    The factions of the American duopoly advance the same oligarchical worldview despite slight differences in agenda between the two factions. Any religious body which implicitly supports one faction over another places political convenience over moral and institutional integrity since neither party places morality as an end. Abstention is a moral choice, as not voting is a personal declaration that the duopoly is fundamentally amoral or at the very least necessarily incapable of forming a just state according to Catholic teaching.

    I am convinced that the only solution to the American duopoly stalemate is the establishment of a second republic (a new, revised, or supplemental constitution). I am partial to the French semi-presidential system. Given that the Constitution is for some nearly akin to Holy Writ, I expect that our federal system of government will not change despite the almost absolute inability for the two parties to cooperate. Perhaps it is difficult for many Americans to accept this, but a 225-year-old government model might not suit the political needs of the nation today without significant modification.

  • Interesting discussion on civics, and voting. A lot of people gave their lives so that others would have the right to vote. Even today young men and women are going into harms way for what I consider a sacred right. I really don’t care who you vote for, but please vote. Or roll up your sleeves and start a Christian Democratic Party, but don’t encourage apathy when it comes to voting.

    We don’t live in a perfect world, and our political system like the Catholic Church is not spotless.

    There are far to many people today who have to struggle for the right to vote.

    I have to continue to remind myself that God will do the Kingdom Building. This democracy like the Catholic Church has a lot of potential for good if we can accept our frail human nature, and always point to a better tomorrow.

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m not apathetic, just frustrated. I’m not asking for a spotless system, just one in which there is some morally conscionable option available. I regret that the lack thereof makes it look like I’m encouraging apathy; that is not at all my intent. But neither do I wish to encourage giving a pass to one set of evils because the other appears worse – or more accurately, because partisan loyalties blind people to how alike they really are.

      O Lord, thy kingdom come!

    • But the “struggle” for “the right to vote” is not really here or there in the Christian narrative, Rainbow. The Sacrament of Voting may be part of the salvation offered by the religion of liberal democracy. But if the whole point here is that voting is often meaningless and simply a way to appease the population into thinking they have “a voice”…then people “winning the right to vote” might simply be equivalent to them drinking the Kool-Aid. Indeed, I’ve seen some historians suggest that not a single presidential election since 1920 would have turned out differently if women had never gained the right to vote.

      Some people’s “causes” are stupid, Rainbow, we just have to accept that. We can view it as tragic or we can view it as comic, but some people fight for stupid things, and I have to think the right to a meaningless vote is one of those stupid things that people have wasted a lot of time and energy on, the very effort actually being a form of being co-opted by the system.

    • Rainbow Sash Movement: A lot of people gave their lives so that others would have the right to vote. Even today young men and women are going into harms way for what I consider a sacred right. (my emphasis)

      Without in any way intending to denigrate the bravery of our soldiers past and present, and their sacrificial service for our country, I’m not sure how troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have anything to do with securing or protecting our right to vote here.

      • I am not specifically talking about Afghanistan and Iraq, In my opinion, when these young servicemen and women volunteer to serve their country they protect our right to vote by the very nature of their service. I understand this yearning to focus on the moral high ground, but I suspect the issue of morality is a little more complex.

        • Julia Smucker

          I think that complexity was turmarion’s point: notwithstanding the popularity of the “defending freedom” trope, it is fallacious to draw a straight line from soldiers’ military service to civil liberties.

  • Julia, your post expresses pretty much how I feel, too, this cycle. I’ve gone back and forth over the last few months, and this is what I’m going to do.

    First, I live in a very red state which, barring a miracle, will go for Romney. That’s something that needs to be kept in mind in analyzing these things. Unless you live in a swing state where things really could go either way, you know that your vote will be literally ineffective, since all electoral votes go for the popular vote victor, regardless. Thus, if I lived in a state in which I thought there was a chance that the lesser of two evils might actually win, I’d put a clothespin on my nose and mark the box for him. However, in my state–as in a state such as California, which will almost certainly go for Obama–one realizes that in a sense one’s vote is symbolic no matter whom one votes for.

    Second, in my state, as far as I know, the only third-party candidates on the ballot will be for the Libertarian and Green parties. I am too much opposed to the Libertarian platform–especially their economics, which I view as practically evil–to vote Libertarian under any circumstance. I could almost vote Green, but I found that one of the people seriously running for nomination on the Green ticket is Roseanne Barr!! I doubt she’ll get it, but I can’t vote for a party that can seriously consider such a candidate. That’s not a political party, it’s a joke.

    Thus, what I’ve decided to do is this: I’m going to study all the parties running candidates in the election this year, whether they’re on the ballots on all fifty states or not. If I can find one that I can tolerate as the least of a multitude of evils, I’m going to write him or her in. If not, I will write in some other notable person from the public realm whom I can respect and who doesn’t have any deal-breaking views. A very imperfect choice, but I think it’s the best of a bad lot this time around.

    • “you know that your vote will be literally ineffective, since all electoral votes go for the popular vote victor, regardless…one realizes that in a sense one’s vote is symbolic no matter whom one votes for.”

      Well, not exactly. If EVERYONE thought that way, and thus everyone stayed home or picked some candidate they thought couldn’t win…then the inevitability of the “non-swing” status of the State might totally change.

      There was an early Simpson’s episode about this once; Bart lost the class election to Martin because all of his supporters stayed out celebrating so nobody voted, whereas Martin got two votes.

      In theory, at least, your vote either contributes to OR defies the “inevitability” of the state’s “leaning”…and over time, if enough people defy rather than despairing, the “inevitability” can change. It might mean that in this election the state is still 90/10 “orange,” but if you do vote “purple,” then it might be 85/15 next time, etc.

      • Well, it’s the paradox of individual action vs. group action. I go through the drive through to save time, but everybody else had the same idea, so it would have been faster to walk into the restaurant.

        The way I look at it, a third-party or write-in vote does contribute to wearing away the inevitability of the massively dysfunctional two-party system. It might take decades, but hopefully it will eventually have an effect. My fear is that it will take some massive national (or global) catastrophe to catalyze a political rearrangement of the type that, IMO, we need; but meanwhile, I think third-party or write-in votes are legitimate.

        Now of course, that’s all subject to what’s going on in November–that’s still a long way off. A vote for my lesser of two evils is still possible; but I’m not anticipating it.

        • “a third-party or write-in vote does contribute to wearing away the inevitability of the massively dysfunctional two-party system.”

          Yes, that was one of my points. If everyone says “Oh, well, he can’t actually win”…and then doesn’t vote for him for that reason, then of course he can’t. Then again, if people voted based actually on pure personal preference rather than making these sorts of “strategic” analyses of what everyone else might do…then, who knows, such a person might actually have a chance!

          This aspect of “Not actually expressing my pure preference, but considering what everyone else is doing” is something more minimized in alternate voting systems (preference voting, ranking methods, etc). But still, Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem mathematically proves no voting system can maximize all desirable features.

          I remember in a movie theatre recently, they had a cell-phone based game where, before the show, they put pictures up of two actresses with the line “Who Is Your Favorite?” above it. But this was not actually what they were asking, because the game worked in such a way that you “won” that round (and so got points) if you correctly guessed the “most popular.” But who was “most popular” was determined by who the most people in the theatre picked/guessed!

          But, of course, people then weren’t just picking their favorite and being rewarded if they had the “right” preference. Rather, they were considering not their own preference, but whom they THOUGHT everyone else would pick. But everyone else was ALSO picking not based on preference, but rather based on whom THEY thought everyone else would pick.

          And yet, isn’t this how the concept of “popularity” bizarrely works. It’s not necessarily a real indication of preference of the population. Rather, it’s a consensus regarding a sort of self-fulfilling perception of everyone else’s perception, that may or may not actually correspond to what people actually like personally.

  • pierrecorneille

    Have you thought of a 3rd party candidate? I don’t know the field enough to know whether there’s one who would suit your criteria, but if there is, then voting for him or her could be a way to signal to the other parties what your preferences are and what they are failing to do to win your vote. Just a suggestion, however.

  • W8kwses

    I am in a peculiar position intellectually, I freely admit, in that I have a law degree from a prestigious Eastern law school, but wound up with pastoral career (though not a priest) on an Indian Reservation in the West. Thus I can nit pick at the original article above to diminish sharply the impact of some of them (such as at least one killing of an American citizen was of an imam in a place where there was no effective government at all) — meaning that conspiracy to kill Americans in America could not be prosecuted. In short, there was no judicial remedy, and no physical jurisdiction, and the fact of enmity and conspiracy was undeniable. In turn that reflects the fact that an armed, militant enemy is not ‘owned’ by any nation, and thrives where there is no effective government at al.

    And so on and so forth one can debate the points.

    As for life issues in the medical field, we also tend to oversimplify … and some of the loudest ‘pro-life’ voices appear to be pro-life only long enough to get elected, where they fail to pursue the sole method of ending lawful abortion through Constitutional Amendment. Instead they seem to do whatever they can to erode the social safety net, as noted in the article thereby creating incentives to abort.

    I fear that one must vote, on must express a preference, even where the preference is minuscule. Otherwise the less preferred may be elected. I remember one election affecting a community where the election outcome was determined by a 7 vote margin.

  • Thanks for the great post, I share JuIia’s and many of y’alls consternation over voting. But I have to confess that a lot of my own frustration is over my own already sinful (evil?) complicity and insinuation into this broken, immoral, political system/culture that is so often corrupt, death-dealing, and maybe in some ways evil (though that word gets tossed around here alot, maybe without enough care?). But I think I place too much responsibility for living the kingdom of God into this world onto human social structures that can’t help but be flawed and imperfect in order to ameliorate my own apathy, unfaithfulness and guilt (and that of the church as well). So while I over emphasizing the importance of my relatively inconsequential vote, I make so many other important choices not to share my life and God’s grace with a broken and suffering world in ways that would really cost me something. Do I really think that voting for a candidate that calls him/her self “pro-life” somehow makes me pro-life?

    Over the years I have both abstained from voting or voted for third parties. I wouldn’t criticize anyone who thoughtfully chose either of those options (even while bearing in mind what I read in this morning reflection from Martin Buber, “And if there were a devil it would not be one who decided against God, but one who, in eternity, came to no decision” hmmm…).

    So I reckon that this year I will vote but I don’t have any compelling interest in trying to convince somebody else to vote one way or the other, I don’t want that responsibility; yet as Buber later wrote (sounding a bit like a blending of Foucault and Mother Teresa), “We cannot avoid using power, cannot escape the compulsion to afflict the world, so let us, cautious in diction and mighty in contradiction, love powerfully.” blessings and obliged y’all.

  • Anne

    As a registered Democrat who ducked presidential elections for decades because of abortion and then lost her mind (temporarily) and voted for George W. Bush in 2000, I have absolutely NO proven wisdom to add to this discussion, but even so, I urge you to vote. Demanding too many moral litmus tests of candidates in a pluralistic democracy can only lead to paralysis or extremism, as I think has been well demonstrated on the floor of Congress over the past couple years.

    Politics should be the art of the possible, not a moral standoff, and I think returning to that concept is our one best hope. In the end, voters have to decide which candidate will do best by the country, no more, but no less. Helping him or her see the light on every issue we care about is what we’re supposed to be doing the rest of the year.

  • @W8kwses —

    “As for life issues in the medical field, we also tend to oversimplify … and some of the loudest ‘pro-life’ voices appear to be pro-life only long enough to get elected, where they fail to pursue the sole method of ending lawful abortion through Constitutional Amendment. Instead they seem to do whatever they can to erode the social safety net, as noted in the article thereby creating incentives to abort.”

    Exactly right.

    I don’t know that I can agree with you, however, in your tolerance of state-sponsored, preemptive murder. I somehow can’t imagine Jesus ordering his disciples to “Murder that man, before he can do any harm.” It would seem to me that to keep such people out of this country through diligence and competent surveillance is the moral course of action.

    As for the question: To vote, or not to vote… I am on record as saying that it would be a very good thing if only a small percentage–say about 10%–of eligible voters turned out to vote in the national election and state elections. This would show both the domestic “Powers That Be” and the world-at-large that the crimes being committed by our elite class (the REAL elite, not the intellectuals) are not supported by the American people–that these are apolitical rogues running the show, proving once again that “might makes right.”

    Vote at the local level only!

  • Julia, I think that writing Dorothy Day’s name in is worth considering on two points. It says that the voter who does this accepts neither presidential candidate, and that the values associated with Dorothy’s name suggest why the voter rejected them. Dorothy and the Catholic Worker seem to have more name recognition than in the past. Supposing several million voters across the country were to write her name in, wouldn’t that give us a sense of how many voters really want to change the moral tone of this country?

    • The Catholic Church doesn’t want to lose its tax-exempt status, but if the bishops REALLY had balls, they (or the Pope) would tell all faithful Catholics to do this in protest (or to write in “Jesus Christ” or something like that). Heck, in this case they would probably get disaffected liberals AND conservatives on board, even if they otherwise disagreed (everyone wants change, they just don’t agree on WHAT change). For something like this to work, it takes a huge infrastructure giving everyone “permission,” ie, giving us a sense of some assurance that maybe a lot of other people really will do the same thing. The Catholic Church has this power, and could invoke it in all sorts of creative ways…but has never really used it even though it could, not so much to promote any particular politicized cause or proposed solution, but rather simply to protest the status quo.

  • MS

    I read a version of this in the Socialist Worker some time ago, and it’s stayed with me: it’s better to vote for the candidate you want even when there’s no chance of them being elected, than to vote for the candidate you don’t want only to discover that you helped them take office.

    When it became clear to me that the problem with American government was systemic and that the culture of Washington was poisonous, I swore never again to vote for a Democrat or a Republican or any other status quo sort of candidate. I swore off political idealists and “reformers” as well, mostly because they take the system for granted or want to reform it “from within.” Impossible. No general election will change Washington culture in any meaningful way–it’ll just succeed in re-arranging the deck chairs.

    Couple my cynicism with a view of the current state of elections as having devolved to blatant scapegoating (who’s to blame for the mess? Let’s vote him off the island!), and the prospect of voting for anyone who actually aspires to any political office becomes even more onerous to me. In many ways, monarchy is appearing more and more like the only truly revolutionary form of government–the rational counter-intuitive choice. And something along the lines of a more deliberate form of the anarcho-monarchy envisioned by “Muslim heretic” Hakim Bey seems even more appealing because it is that much more counter-intuitive and so much more impossible. Granted, it may all sound like a Dadaist approach to politics–but when politics as usual has become completely absurd, I think we will only discover the truly rational approach by exploring and embracing what appears the most ludicrous and paradoxical.

    I fully support HM Queen Elizabeth II for President of the United States and urge you all to do the same.


    • Jordan

      Voting for HM Elizabeth II would not aid in the establishment of a Christian reign over the United States! 😉 She is only FD (the coinage abbreviation for fidei defensor, “Defender of the Faith”) in Britain. In Canada and all of the other Commonwealth Realms she is not FD. Look at a Canadian penny next time you find one. Anyway, Betty nominally presides over the heretical Church of England, which allows women and openly gay priests! I get the gut feeling this doesn’t square with Pat Robertson’s dominionist dystopia. (/sarcasm)

      I’ll seriously consider writing in Dorothy Day also, for what it’s worth. Convincing arguments here.

  • In this matter I am guided by what Elie Wiesel wrote “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

    I understand voting on the principle of conscience, but not voting in the name of conscience does not hold the same meaning for me.

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m not neutral. It’s because I feel strongly about their victimizing policies that I can’t bring myself to vote for either Obama or Romney. For me, not voting in the name of conscience is only applicable when the options given are unconscionable.

      • Kurt

        For all of the President’s and Mr. Romney’s shortcomings, they both come closer to deserving the presidency than any of us here deserve God’s salvation. Yet God saves.

        While I’m voting for (and financially contributing to) the President as a positive good, not the lesser of evils, I hope God deals with fallen humanity with more mercy and forgiveness than they way we sometimes deal with selecting leaders in our democracy.

      • We disagree on this. I will vote, and continue to put my faith in God, and not my human frailty. In my opinion, voting is not about winning it is about community..

      • Julia Smucker

        RSM, even if we disagree on the application, we both seem to agree with the spirit of Psalm 146: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no help…” This psalm was of some comfort to me in 2004, when I was feeling anxious about Bush’s reelection.

        • Hi Julia,

          We agree on the fact that the Lord is in charge of all creation.

          My concern is with the divisiveness of partisanship and ideology above a call to serve the needs of the elderly and poor. I find it troubling that here there appears to be sense that to be a good catholic you should challenge your right to vote. This is my interpretation of the present discussion and nothing else.

          In my opinion, there are candidates that align their values with the values Catholics cherish. I believe the Bishops were on point about the Ryan budget in stating, “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to the poor and vulnerable persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all.” The Nuns on the bus echoed this sentiment when they said ““it’s not who we are as a nation, it is not in keeping with who we are, and we must speak out against it.”

          These are the values that will guide me in voting.

          • Julia Smucker

            My concern is with the divisiveness of partisanship and ideology above a call to serve the needs of the elderly and poor.

            So is mine. (And I certainly agree with you and the bishops and nuns on the immorality of the Ryan budget.) And since both parties are beholden to partisanship and ideology and neither of their candidates shows much actual promise toward care of the vulnerable, I can’t justify voting for either. However, thanks to this discussion, I’m now considering taking a third-party or write-in option rather than simply abstaining. It would of course be a token vote, but that’s the best I can manage.

      • gadria

        Frankly I truly believe if the economy would be in great shape right now you would not have written this post in the first place.
        “..when the options given are unconscionable”
        I disagree with your conclusion. Unfortunately I fear the net result will be that Romney will be elected in part because of abstaining purists and we all can enjoy 2 times x reasons to be upset.

  • Julia Smucker
  • I know how you feel, Julia.