by Matt Spence
Ben, you've gone and done it. I know you sent me this article from the Atlantic solely to provoke me, to bring out my inner Mercutio. Congratulations, it worked.
Can I sympathize with Connor Friedersdorf for his exasperation over the "lesser of two evils" choice that American two-party politics lays at many a voter's feet? Yes, I can. Instead of getting into the weeds of the legality, morality, constitutionality and devastating consequences of drone strikes or indefinite detention, let's tackle the underpinning philosophical question. The article puts the question to us specifically in regard to POTUS's actions on drone strikes and the like:
In a generic sense, what he is asking is this: are there single issues that can disqualify a candidate from consideration - regardless of whether or not you favor a majority of their other positions?The future I hope for, where these actions are deal-breakers in at least one party (I don't care which), requires some beginning, some small number of voters to say, "These things I cannot support."
Are these issues important enough to justify a stand like that?
I think so.
I am not sure whether you asked this of me facetiously or not, but I can tell you that it is very, very real. Almost painful. And millions of Americans ask themselves that question every election cycle. I have - in a meandering and ill-formed way - tried to cover this issue before in this space from my own personal perspective of deep Catholic faith. As a person who has had Catholic friends pray for my soul because of politics and had Catholic friends walk away from the Church because of the same, it is very real. So while I would like to discuss this philosophically, know that it comes from a deeply personal place. I have struggled my whole life with reconciling my faith and my politics, my spiritual life and my political life.
To step away from the personal for a minute, let me pose the question again. Are there single issues that can disqualify a candidate from consideration - regardless of whether or not you favor a majority of their other positions?
Sure. I think so.
Someone who believes in racial or ethnic superiority.
Someone who has advocated the destruction of a nation.
Someone who commits genocide.
I would say that it is rational to disqualify any of those from consideration. Is my personal list longer than that. Probably. But where do you draw the line? What are the principles that cross into the dead zone? Obviously, they are different for every voter. For Connor Friedersdorf, the extra-judicial killing of foreign nationals (and American citizens) via drone strikes is over the line. You have written passionately about it multiple times, but that clearly does not cross the threshold for you. It is a matter of individual conscience and what forms each individual's conscience is different, and ever-changing.
Really, what we are talking about is deal-breakers. Everyone has them - whether it be in choosing a spouse, a house or a place to eat lunch. Hell, in my travels around Iowa I met a lady who based her caucus support on the candidate with the best hair. Seriously. I guess baldness was her dealbreaker. That's democracy for you. Everyone's vote counts once, even Mable from Bettendorf, Iowa who liked John Edwards' hair.
It is an interesting question - and worthy of discussion. I hope you weigh in on it. Still, I think there is a more interesting question here.
What do you do when you decide that both candidates are unacceptable?
Many Catholics find themselves in that very place today. Consider these two pieces from the Catholic Bishops:
Okay. We're already at odds with ourselves in both parties. Maybe I need to go deeper to find clarity? Let's look at where those two considerations come from - Catholic Social Teaching, which offers us, among others, this quote:Considerations for budget policymaking:1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
Please tell me how either of those statements can be reconciled within the Democratic or Republican parties of today or the campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. They can't. So is it a plague on both your houses? Is it a principled abstention by abdicating my responsibility to vote?The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty.
What do you do when neither candidate meets your moral standards?