M.Z. over at Vox Nova has a post up entitled “No you can’t wash your hands” about voting for flawed candidates. He makes a fair point insofar as both parties support policies that are in tension, if not contradiction, with Catholic Social Teaching. Voting is basically a binary choice in American politics, and in many cases voting for either candidate constitutes material cooperation with evil. However, his description of the choice facing Catholics this past election was very puzzling. Here it is:
I will not apologize for having interests besides those of the unborn. While it easy to make the claim that one is selfish for considering society’s other interests, a counterclaim can be made that it is perverse to ask people to die around the world so that abortion can be ended. Regrettably, the claim isn’t even that strong. The claim is more that we should have risked the deaths of hundreds of thousands around the world on the off chance that the courts might get around to reversing Roe and the State Legislatures might possibly prohibit it.
There are any number of valid ways to describe the differences between President-elect Obama and Senator McCain this past election, but this one struck me as, well, ridiculous. Ross Douthat, whom M.Z. quotes approvingly at the beginning of his post, remarked repeatedly during the election that the candidates were basically indistinguishable on foreign policy. Perhaps M.Z. is privy to information that I or Mr. Douthat was not, but did we really know that voting for McCain was risking the ‘deaths of hundreds of thousands around the world’? Did Obama acquire special foreign policy experience in the Ill. state senate that will make hundreds of thousands of people around the world safer? Is this type of speculation a sound basis for a prudential judgment? And is it comparable to an issue like abortion, where we can predict with near certainty what the candidates will do? I think a reasonable (if unsatisfying) case could be made that Obama was the lesser of two evils, but ungrounded speculation is a poor basis for prudential decision-making.