In three weeks, I will be voting for the Democratic candidate for President, John Kerry. I’ve been asked about this by several people. The pithy answer I’ve given is that “I’d rather vote for a bad man than an evil one.” To work through my thoughts on this important issue, and provide some ideas for other people who may be making their decisions, I thought I’d journalize a little.
In my mind, there are three factors when considering a candidate: policy statements, credibility of statements, and personal honor. The first one is usually easy to determine. The second is important and straightforward; while one might make statements on this or that, what probability exists of followup? What does the record say? The third is a little trickier. One theory of government suggests that a representative is solely an instrument of voting, and personal qualities don’t matter. This seems strange. Lots of issues arise in a House or Senate not in a position paper, and the general principles of a person guide these situations. For an executive, there are also qualities of leadership: Does he motivate well? Does he represent my company, the USA, appropriately? Do we follow him?
Let’s start with the last, because a lot of the hatred in the country arises from this area. There are differences. As young men about my age, Kerry served his country in harm’s way. Bush maneuvered into a comfy assignment, then performed at most the minimum requirements of that duty, with a puzzling gap. Kerry came back and became a well-spoken advocate, including the famous line “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Bush has a hazy history of never-denied drug use and a drunken driving arrest. Given my stance on alcohol, DUI is a really big thing. Kerry served as a public prosecutor. Bush served as a baseball owner, a job acquired suspiciously, and hung around with oil barons. In character, I prefer the Northerner.
As little as I like the Texan, character is not sufficient to overcome big policy differences. Let’s move to issues. I’ll begin with the most talked about set, life issues, abortion (with euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research). Several bishops have stated that my vote for Kerry puts me outside the state of grace necessary for Communion. This is a very interesting and innovative doctrine, in the sense that it contradicts a whole lot of tradition. For instance, the current Pope personally gave communion to a leader of the Italian pro-abortion movement three years ago, and I doubt the Pope is supportive of abortion rights. Cardinal Ratzinger, another person not known for liberalism, provided background in a note reprinted in
L’espresso. Ratzinger concludes, “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”
There are three critical points here. First, life issues are very important. Ratzinger notes that they are more important than the general issue of war, or the death penalty. Second, I do not support abortion. I’m trying to assist in bringing speakers to illuminate the Catholic position, and hold a large prayer service on the anniversary of Roe v Wade. That decision was two years less one day before I was born. Third, the standard of “Proportionate Reasons” is fairly difficult to meet. Proportionate Reasons are an Objective (or intrinsic) moral evil of equivalent gravity. Both size and badness are important.
For instance, the application of the death penalty by Bush while he was Governor is not sufficient. State-sanctioned cold-blooded murder is not uniformly prohibited by Catholic thought (although it is in mine); in the case where such tactics are needed to protect society, the action is permissible. Nevertheless, the application in Texas does not meet this standard. Jails are quite sufficient; were there really over 150 needs to protect society? Furthermore, the Texas judicial system applies the penalty in a capricious and unfair manner. The evil might be objective, even. But the sheer count is not equivalent to over a million a year. Instead, let’s look at three real reasons.
- Voting for Bush is not fully pro-life with the Church position. The President has repeatedly suggested an exception for force or health.
CNN’s Voter Guide explicitly states this, which also came up in a 2000 primary debate and the NARAL guide for 2000. His decision on
stem cell research can best be described as Solomonic. Despite Republican control of the House, Senate, White House, and Supreme Court, very little progress has been made. It is difficult to take abolition statements credibly. In last Friday’s debate, the President resorted to code words about Dred Scott instead of outright elimination when he had the chance. Tonight, Bush refused to directly answer the question about Roe v Wade, twice. Voting for the Texan is proportionate reasons anyway, making the debate impure from the start.
- The occupation of Iraq. Saddam Hussein did many evil things, including the use of chemical weapons in the 1980s and the invasion of Kuwait. The world is better with him not in power. Nevertheless, the justification and methods were both highly improper. The administration’s justifications have fallen like dominoes. Material cooperation with al-Qaeda? False. Weapons of Mass Destruction? False. What is it now, corruption in the oil-for-food program? If I recall, false witness is one of those commandment things, and thus objective moral evil. Torture is intrinsic moral evil, too. Most importantly, failing to provide adequate support and protection for the Iraq population is objective moral evil. Iraq has over 20 million people, and right now one cannot say they have a functioning government or adequate safety. That’s clear moral evil. It’s of proportionate scale. If not, how big a country would we need to ravage? Iran? Italy? Indonesia? India?
- Market fundamentalism. Over a century of Catholic moral teaching has explicitly talked about the evils inherent in some types of business practice. Practices that reduce humans to units of production, the “economic man” hypothesis, are inherently evil. They deny faith by collapsing everything to rationality. To me, the preface to Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad may have caused more damage than Roe v Wade. (Go look it up.) The multinational corporation, acting without personal responsibility, is incredibly dangerous. Treating money numerically, without considering the lives of those behind the decisions, denies humanity. We’ve seen the problems of Asian currency destruction, Long Term Capital Management, Enron, and Arthur Andersen. World economics is a large enough scale to be proportionate.
It’s very easy to ignore these problems, because they don’t necessarily affect daily life. The supporters even appear benign, since they make no direct challenge to religion. I speak out against the economists, and the Kapitalists, which the Bush administration supports. Market fundamentalism is agnostic, since it doesn’t care about God or reduces the Lord to cost-benefit analysis. I consider that objective moral evil. How is that Christian?