It’s Not Cooperation with Evil If One Side is Not Evil
Mark Gordon at Vox Nova explains why he is voting for neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney.
For my part, I won’t be voting for either Obama or Romney because both promise to pursue policies that violate my understanding of fundamental Catholic teaching. To invest my democratic franchise in either would, in my opinion, be an abrogation of my first responsibility, which is to to witness to the Gospel in all its dimensions. For me, there can be no disjunction between the two. To permit any other allegiance, identity, issue or ideology to trump the Gospel – even temporarily or provisionally – is, again in my opinion – a form of idolatry. Christian discipleship must be marked first of all by an unyielding evangelical integrity: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …” (Matthew 6:6). And just as I would hope not to choose a “lesser” evil in my personal or business life, neither can I do so as a citizen. As I’ve often written here, when you choose the lesser of two evils, you still get evil. Christians shouldn’t be in the business of choosing evil.
Such is his right, and if he genuinely believes that voting for either candidate would involve cooperation with evil, then the choice is understandable and perhaps commendable. The problem with Mark’s analysis is that only one candidate affirms positions that are clearly in opposition to dogmatic Church teaching.
Gordon begins by dismissing a standard argument:
I have one friend, for instance, who insists that abortion, same-sex marriage and “religious liberty” are the only non-negotiables in this election, and that everything else a candidate might advocate – from pre-emptive war and torture to the abuse of workers, the environment and the poor – falls under the category of “prudential judgment.” I find that sort ofWeigelian “analysis” to be suspiciously convenient and transparently self-serving. It is Republican partisan advocacy dressed up as moral argument.
Perhaps there is something to be said about the almost reflexive resort to “prudential judgment” when discussing economic issues and foreign policy. While there is a certain ring of truth to the argument that only a few issues revolve around non-negotiables, it is a bit trite to suggest that all economic matters are issues of prudential judgment. The Church is not silent with regards to economics and foreign policy, and to dismiss Church teachings out of hand as matters outside the realm of her authority is wrongheaded. That said, it is incumbent upon those who insist that certain policies violate Church teachings to adequately demonstrate how those policies run against Church teaching. In other words – show, don’t tell. It’s not enough to say simply that wanting to roll back government spending is at odds with magisterial teaching – one must demonstrate the nexus between advocacy of lower spending and cooperation with evil.
Furthermore, the preceding argument assumes that all matters are of equal weight. This sort of thinking continues to plague many Catholics. While we cannot ignore social justice or the Church’s call to help the poor and most vulnerable, these matters are not of equal magnitude to abortion, marriage, and religious liberty. As Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
When it comes to President Obama, Gordon is rightly wary, although curiously he emphasizes Obama’s continuation and even furtherance of Bush-era policies over some of the more obvious examples many of us would have thought of. Gordon only tangentially alludes to the HHS mandate, and doesn’t even mention Obama’s sudden advocacy of gay marriage. At any rate, Gordon rightfully concludes that he cannot pull the lever for Obama – a conclusion that any right thinking, morally serious Catholic must come to.
What about Mitt Romney? Why is he unacceptable? This is where Gordon’s piece falls apart.
Still, his nominal position on abortion, insincere and incomplete though it is, doesn’t disqualify him from my consideration. What does disqualify him are his positions on war, torture, workers’ rights, and the treatment of the poor and immigrants. Mitt Romney was an enthusiastic supporter of the war in Vietnam, going so far as to lead anti-anti-war rallies, even while securing for himself a number of draft deferments that enabled him to avoid service. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Gulf War, and the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan, even though not one of his five strapping sons ever bothered to wear the uniform and risk his own neck. Now, Romney has all but promised to launch a pre-emptive war on Iran, not explicitly – he hasn’t said “I will take us to war” – but in his unhinged rhetoric about the Iranian “threat” and in his choice of key foreign policy and military advisors, almost all of whom are neocons of the Michael Ledeen type (of the “Ledeen Doctrine,” a term approvingly coined by neocon writer Jonah Goldberg. The Ledeen Doctrine states that “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business”).
Well he kind of starts out okay, noting that Romney can’t exactly be trusted when it comes to abortion – something I’ve asserted myself many times – but that fact of the matter is that at least nominally he is pro-life, though with exceptions. The rest of this screed is frankly bizarre. Citing Romney’s youthful support of the war in Vietnam – Vietnam! – as a rationale for implying that Romney is some kind of warmonger seems to be stretching things beyond the realm of credibility. Gordon then writes of Romney’s support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and issues a non sequiter about Romney’s sons lack of service, indicating that Gordon’s analysis is burdened by overwrought emotion and lacking in any kind of cool reflection. Further, Gordon has to invent a position based on a unique ability to read Mitt Romney’s mind. Gordon just knows that Mitt Romney is going to bomb bomb bomb Iran. In other words, he’s picking up on a theme left from the 2008 campaign where it was asserted without proof that John McCain was certainly going to lead us into war against Iran. Catholics for Obama repeatedly made this argument in 2008 when justifying their vote. Where did that leave us? Well Gordon doesn’t mention Benghazi in this post. (A topic notably absent from Vox Nova for two months now. I guess since it only involved the deaths of four Americans it didn’t really merit a mention.) Benghazi happens to be in Libya – the cite of one of our two military interventions undertaken during the Obama regime. But hey, he (incorrectly) used the term neocon, so there’s that.
Romney explicitly promises to reinstate the Bush torture regime, and approves of the NDAA, the Patriot Act, Obama’s illegal and immoral drone warfare campaign, and the growth of the national security police state here at home. He has promised to further militarize American foreign policy and even the American industrial base (40% of which is already tied to “defense”) through huge increases in our military budget, which now exceeds the combined military budgets of the rest of the developed world, including China and Russia. War is a growth business for Romney, and like a good investor he’s prepared to put your money where his mouth is, knowing that he and his won’t have any skin in the game if things go bad.
The “torture regime” is a lovely remnant from the early days of the Catholic blogosphere . Whether a citation of a poorly written blog post constitutes proof that Romney will institute a “torture regime” is a question I will leave to the reader. The rest of the paragraph seems to be a recitation of talking points swapped from the Obama campaign. Even if every word of it were true, none of it seems to impinge Catholic teaching in even a tangential way. I was unaware that the Church has written authoritatively against certain percentages of government expenditures being related to military defense, though I welcome any corrections there.
On the other hand, Romney the businessman sees the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and the unemployed as bad investments, and he has promised to undermine decades of bipartisan commitments to help those who struggle with poverty and infirmity. Romney’s endorsement of the Paul Ryan’s Randian budget – which would cut the legs out from under Medicaid and other social safety net programs – along with his repeated indictment of food and housing aid, his disparagement of the 47% of Americans who receive some form of transfer payment from the federal government, and his tax proposals that favor the wealthy all demonstrate that his Mitt Romney’s America would exercise a preferential option for the rich, in direct contradiction of Catholic Social Teaching and the spirit of the Gospel.
Again, this isn’t analysis but rather a recitation of talking points and strawmen caricatures. Here Gordon resorts to turning Mitt Romney into some kind of creature ripped from a Charles Dickens book, albeit one who finds his way into Ayn Rand’s world. (Now that would be an interesting bit of crossover fan fiction.) At no point does Gordon even attempt to confront Mitt Romney’s proposed policies and examine precisely how they undercut Church teaching. Instead he takes anti-Romney talking points as Gospel (pun intended) and blithely asserts that R0mney is thus, in essence, a heretic. Again he tells but doesn’t show.
Gordon then rails against Romney’s opposition to health care, again just echoing Democrat talking points. But at least here he attempts to demonstrate the nexus between Romney’s position and its anti-Catholicity.
Here’s a fact: Opposition to universal healthcare is un-Catholic. Period. Full-stop.
Well then. It’s a fact – and why? Because Mark Gordon says so. Isn’t debating easier when you get to simply assert that your position is the correct one? Actually Gordon does offer a single statement taken from a message written by Pope Benedict XVI: “Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care. It is one of the ‘inalienable rights of man.’” Well case closed then. If the Pope insists that access to health care is a universal right than it logically follows that a complicated legislative initiative mandating that companies provide certain levels of insurance is something that all Catholics are morally obliged to support. Full stop.
Romney’s contempt for workers and workers’ rights is on display every time he degrades the contributions made by unions to building up and sustaining the middle class. This rhetoric is of a piece with his own record as a businessman. Not only was Romney’s Bain Capital one of the pioneers in outsourcing American jobs overseas, but even here at home Bain was a leader in pushing big box retail on thousands of American communities, at the expense of local office-supply, hardware, and other small businesses and their workers. Subsidiarity and respect for work and workers, anyone?
Again, it does not logically follow that criticism of union behavior is a demonstration of one’s “contempt” for workers and workers’ rights. And the invocation of Bain capital, an institution that has led to more wealth and job creation than has four years of Barack Obama’s governance, shows a definite lack of seriousness.
Finally, Mitt Romney promises to make life so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that they will beg to pass back through the borders. This, of course, flies in the face Church teaching,
Again, just because Mark Gordon says something flies in the face of Church teaching doesn’t make it so. From the Catechism:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
Which aspect of Church teaching is Mitt Romney violating?
Throughout the primary season, Romney gleefully joined in the GOP chorus that heaped insults on the heads of our (mostly Catholic) brothers and sisters, who come here to work and raise their families.
Once again this is simply caricature. At no point did Romney, nor any other GOP candidate for that matter, “heep insults” on any would be immigrant. In fact they merely echoed Church teaching and said that migrants must respect the nation’s laws. It is not “mocking” someone to insist that they observe the law.
In the end, I can’t in conscience vote for Mitt Romney because his positions on war, torture, and the dignity of workers, the poor, and immigrants. These are not “negotiable” issues for serious Catholics, in my view, because they directly oppose fundamental Catholic teaching and even the Gospel itself.
A morally an intellectually serious person would make convincing arguments about how Mitt Romney’s position “directly oppose fundamental teaching and even the Gospel itself.” Mark Gordon has failed in that regard.
Now it’s interesting that Gordon uses the term “serious Catholic” because it echoes something my pastor said this morning in his homily, and it’s what inspired me to bother writing this refutation of Gordon’s post. I am paraphrasing, but he said that no morally serious Catholic would claim that any party or politician perfectly represents Church teaching. On the other hand, a morally serious Catholic should notice when one party or candidate repeatedly takes positions at odds with Church teaching.
In this election there is an imperfect candidate running against a president whose positions with regards to issues that Catholics hold most dear are completely unacceptable. It would probably have irked Gordon to hear my pastor explain that the only issues that truly matter in this election relate to abortion, marriage, and religious liberty. But he was correct. Oh sure, we cannot deny that economic concerns are driving this election campaign, but to a morally serious Catholic the three issues mentioned above MUST be paramount. They pertain to core issues surrounding life and our ability to truly live our Catholic faith. The false equivalency which would put all issues on an even moral plane is repugnant and frankly dangerous considering the time in which we live. Is there anything more important than fighting for the rights of all unborn children to be protected from the abortionists’ tools? Or guaranteeing that the basic building block of society be preserved? Or that individuals be allowed to truly practice their faith without interference from the government or subject to mandates that violate their conscience?
Simply put, voting for Mitt Romney is not a cooperation with evil, and no Catholic should be led to believe otherwise.
With that said, is voting for a third party or not voting at all cooperating with evil? No. But that doesn’t mean that one who engages in either action should have a clean conscience.
I have a tough time telling anyone who doesn’t want to vote for Mitt Romney that he or she must. For the longest time I resisted casting a ballot for him, rationalizing that I live in a non-swing state sure to give its electoral votes to Barack Obama. But I could not live with myself if I even remotely aided the re-election of a man who stands opposed to my core beliefs.
I’ve already expressed my reservations with this crop of third party candidates. It would be a curious choice for any Catholic to vote for Gary Johnson out of protest against Mitt Romney considering that Johnson is pro-abortion, favors legalizing prostitution, and would have government out of the marriage business altogether. In other words, voting for him is truly cooperating with evil.
More than that, it’s an unserious vote. On January 20 (or 21), 2013, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be sworn in as president. Barring some unforeseen tragedy, no other person will be taking the oath of office that day. To cast a ballot for some third party is the equivalent of not voting for president. Given how one of those men truly stands against the Church, against life, and against our liberty to practice our faith, sitting on the sidelines is not an option.